Getting inside a child’s head: an intriguing narrative voice in Clare Cameron’s The Bear

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, Writing, Writing Thoughts

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Anna and her little brother Alex are on holiday camping on a small island with their parents, but things happen that Anna never expected and struggles to understand – and she is left to look after her brother indefinitely. Alternately caring for and getting angry with Stick, she pushes through both the physical and mental journey of surviving.

The narrative voice is the main thing in this book. Anna is young, probably about five, and the story is related to us wholly in her present tense, childish understanding. She flips between what is happening currently and her knowledge of life at home from her family, her neighbours, her friends and her neighbour’s dog. This leaves the reader to fill in the gaps of what is really happening, and an understanding of the past of the family gradually becomes clear as the story progresses.

For a while the constant present-tense irritated me. It felt as though the author was trying too hard to get into Anna’s head and thought processes: though perhaps this was my struggle rather than the author’s. Once I had got over that, I began to really enjoy it.

The child perception was interesting: the assumptions and the way that ideas fitted together seemed authentic and impressive. I’m glad there was the backstory as well as the current story, as it broadened out what was happening. I wasn’t always sure exactly what was going on from the descriptions, but I didn’t mind that too much. I didn’t want to be an adult who could understand everything and looked down on Anna but rather be on her level and on her side on this adventure.

I also did get interested in the very fact of two very very young children being alone on an island for so long. What would they do? It’s an interesting question for any age really – but I think probably the depiction here was pretty accurate. Get hungry, sad, scared and ill. I think I would have loved reading this when I was younger too: survival is always fun!

After embarking on this book because the main character was called Anna and because I like Bears, I was pleasantly surprised to read something that attempted something I’d not seen in quite that way before. It’s a bit like Scout’s narrative in To Kill a Mockingbird, but to have the interaction purely with nature rather than the world of grown-ups was a great change. It is literally Anna and the things she has learned so far against the world. And Stick, but Stick is such a baby.

This was a refreshingly different story, and I hope that a lot of people read it.

Thanks to Netgalley for the free copy. 

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