Title: The Summer of the Bear
Author: Bella Pollen
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date:12th May 2011
Paperback: 464 pages
Why did I chose to read this book? My parents bought me this book for Christmas and during the tumultuous experience of moving house I rediscovered it and decided it was about blooming time I read it!
Where to read this book? Scotland, preferably a Hebridean island alternatively you could visit Bonn as this is the other notable destination within the story. I didn’t actually do either of these I was sat on a pillow in the middle of my moving box fortress but my imagination took me between the two locations throughout the reading of the novel.
Refreshments: The food eaten within this book are really rather random I’m not sure some of the recipes should really be recreated… ever…therefore, I chose to veer towards the Scottish side of things and purchased some smoked salmon along with the requisite cream cheese, lemon juice, cracked black pepper and a bagel.
In the summer of 1979 a tamed grizzly bear is tempted by the lure of freedom and the wild open sea . . .Meanwhile, the sudden death of British diplomat Nicky Fleming has left his wife closed down with shock. Relocating from Cold-War-riven Germany to a remote Hebridean island, Letty Fleming is haunted by the unthinkable, was it an accident, murder or suicide? And how can she ever begin to explain to her three children that their father may have betrayed his country? Struggling to find solace in a place she loves, Letty begins to unravel the mystery of Nicky’s death, but her determination to protect the children from the truth blinds her to the demons they are already battling. As the family’s secrets threaten to tear them apart it is only the strange but brilliant Jamie who manages to hold on to the one thing he knows for sure: his father has promised to return and Nicky Fleming was a man who never broke a promise.
The multiple narrative that Bella weaves throughout her story is a useful one especially when leaping between the Hebrides and Bonn and intertwining the feelings and emotions of the Fleming family. The voice we hear most is the youngest son Jamie. He is a complex character due to his autistic-style brain functions leading to his literal interpretation of what people say. So when his father is described to him as ‘missing’ he believes that he will return. It is through Jamie that we discover the escaped bear who tracks Jamie and ultimately saves his life.
The bear, a bizarre thread to include in a book, can be interpreted in a number of ways. Notably as a representative of the Cold War situation within Germany and the diplomatic service but also as the manifestation of Nicky Fleming the father of the Fleming family and the basis of the whole story.
The two Fleming daughters are at different sides of the spectrum in their grief. There’s Georgie who was implicated in her father’s duplicity and has to deal with knowing more truth than she should. She is a quiet character and her relationship with the ‘Pakistani’s son’ near to the end of the story is very beautiful and pure.
On the opposing scale we have Alba. Rage is the one feeling she nurtures and she does this very well, from burning her sister’s A Level results to mercilessly bullying her brother Jamie. It is Alba who gives a frank portrayal of a child coming to terms with a confusing and unfathomable life shift.
However, although I enjoyed the characters and reading their different view-point towards the death of Nicky Fleming the story lacked the ‘family secrets’ and ‘traitor’ complexity that I was expecting. There’s a slow progress throughout the story and I felt myself constantly waiting for something to happen. Intrigue is hinted at and the setting of the Cold War is ripe for the taking to create a really interesting plot but it never seems to occur.
We follow-up until the ending still waiting for answers which then come rushed in the last couple of paragraphs. The denouement and explanation regarding the actions and ultimate death of Nicky Fleming peter our and are frustrating and sad rather than engaging. I was disappointing and I really didn’t want to be.
Bella Pollen’s style was brilliant but the substance was lacking. However, I will progress and try her other book ‘Hunting Unicorns’ as everyone like Nicky Fleming deserves a second chance.
Rating: 6 out of 10