Tag Archives: Claire Cameron

The Bear – Claire Cameron

It is very unlike me to leave reviewing a book till almost a year after I have read it, yet with Claire Cameron’s debut novel The Bear I almost felt I needed quite a distance from it. Not actually that this is a new review written from nothing this morning – though they never are – these thoughts were started when I was reading it, then tweaked after I had finished and then I needed to think about it more. This is because, for me, The Bear is one of those books that really divided me whilst reading it, straight after finishing it and then in the months after that. It was also one of the books I was most excited about reading in 2014, it had me and my expectations from the blurb…

Anna is five. Her little brother, Stick, is almost three. They are camping with their parents in Algonquin Park, in three thousand square miles of wilderness. It’s the perfect family trip. But then Anna awakes in the night to the sound of something moving in the shadows. Her father is terrified. Her mother is screaming. Then, silence. Alone in the woods, it is Anna who has to look after Stick, battling hunger and the elements to stay alive.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 241 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (I blooming love this cover)

I don’t normally start a book review with a blurb as I find it useful to try and rewrite one that I think is more fitting to my experience of the book. However I think the blurb of The Bear is pretty much perfect both in the stop-start simplistic yet precise style it has to it and because it sets up the incredibly high octane start to the book for any reader. The beginning of The Bear is some of the most arresting, thrilling then chilling and unsettling fiction that I have read in quite some time. Even if it written in the voice of a five year old child.

The reason I put ‘even if’ in that final sentence is because I have serious issues with books told from the perspective of a narrator under the age of eleven. Admittedly there are the occasional exceptions; however the rule of thumb is that they make my skin crawl. You see they tend to fall into one of two camps, firstly there is the precocious tone that is generally used (because apparently kids telling stories can only be the precocious ones) or secondly there is the case of an author feeling they are being clever or edgy using this style and actually coming across as a pompous/pretentious arse. Claire Cameron doesn’t fall into either of these clichés; she is one of the exceptions.

Admittedly I was worried that Anna might get on my nerves a little, yet Claire Cameron uses her voice very wisely. Her initial masterstroke is that things happen very quickly from the off, so whatever narrative the book could have been written you would be hooked. What gives it the extra dimension and power is, and this is something that the best authors do with child narrators, it tells you some horrific things very naively and leaves us to fill in the blank/grey areas with our own horrid little imaginations. It is very skilfully done.

I also think this works even more in the narrators favour as because we have put our adult selves back in the position of a small child we also reach for our own nostalgic fears. Who wasn’t scared of potentially being lost in the woods (or indeed even Waitrose) as a small child? Who doesn’t occasionally imagine there could be a shark in the swimming pool as a thirty three year old… oh… this got awkward, moving on. This means we are further on Anna’s side, well you would have to be quite a dark soul not to be anyway as she’s lost in the middle of a wood with a bear with a taste for blood and her little brother to protect, and so by default become all the more desperate that she is safe. Even those of us with hearts made of coal will find ourselves becoming somewhat endeared to her the more we read.

Also there is more wind and I feel a little colder on my legs. It is going to be night-time and we need to get to our safe place. I pull on Stick’s arm so he will stand up and come because I think no more water on my legs it’s too so we walk over to the trees part. It is darker because the trees are spread out like a roof all over the top. Our safe place can be at the cottage because we have two beds. Or Toronto and we need to find it. We walk in there for a little bit and my feet don’t hurt until a pine needle decides to prick them ouch. Mostly they don’t prick only a few mean ones. Stick gets them too because he says ‘owey’ and stops and makes me look at his foot.
‘Gotta splinter.’

You may have sensed it, BUT there is a ‘but’ coming. The tension at the start is epic and somewhere in the middle it seems to suddenly run out. I honestly thought I had missed a chapter or two as the tension suddenly started at the end again because I felt like for a good third (maybe even a little more) of the book we were somewhat stuck in a limbo and getting nowhere. This may have been the idea yet bar a small moment of some tree rustling the drive and indeed sense of peril seemed to vanish. I soon learnt that there is only so much cookie and berry hunting, and indeed descriptions of toddler’s soiling themselves that I could take. It wasn’t the narrative, in fact that pulled me through, it was more that I felt a bit bored. This again could have been the intention as the tension rockets up again at the end, I just thought Cameron could have given us moments of the beginning throughout, after all wouldn’t a five year old be pooing themselves at everything – physically they were but mentally too you would think?

This has been my dilemma in the past year. Oddly The Bear reminds me of a book that I have never read, bear with me, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love. That particular McEwan novel is meant to have one of his best opening chapters, something to do with a balloon, yet apparently from then on is a little bit pedestrian after such a full on start and feels like a corking writer making what should just be a short story turn into a full novel. That is how I felt with The Bear. I will never forget the opening pages, Cameron is clearly a brilliant writer, it just maybe needed to be left a short story or had a few extra moments jaw dropping tension to match the promise it held at the off. Read it for the opening pages alone you won’t forget them I am still thinking about them months on; though don’t plan to go camping anytime afterwards.

I definitely want to read more of her work, I wonder if her debut The Line Painter will come out over here at any point, it looks properly creepy, I will look forward to whatever comes next. Who else has read The Bear and if so what did you make of it?

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

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Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

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I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Incoming Thoughts…

It has been about a month since I shared some of the highlights of the books that have come through the Savidge letterbox and so I thought I would share some of the books (as I am being very tough on books that now come through the door unsolicited) that I will be reading over the next few months as the mood takes me. Though I have been thinking about how I might change things on Savidge Reads in the New Year, but more on that after I have mulled it further. Anyway back to the books that have come to Savidge Reads HQ and have made themselves most at home. First up some books which have come out quite recently…

Out Now

First of all, I have to mention the book that is causing some big buzz here there and everywhere at the moment and that is S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. I have to admit that initially I was a bit sceptical about the book because of all the hype. I knew it was written by ‘the man behind Lost’ and if I am honest I wasn’t sure about it because I stopped watching Lost after the first series as I got, erm, lost. However as I saw people discussing it and how the book houses postcards, napkins with maps on, letters and much more my interest was officially piqued. When it arrived in the post last week I will admit I did do a little dance of glee. As yet I haven’t dared open it, I am planning on spending the day with it next weekend – as I don’t want to lose the pieces inside or put them in the wrong order. This is partly why I still haven’t opened Building Stories by Chris Ware, it is still wrapped on the top of my bookshelves.

Elsewhere in that pile are some new to me authors such as Ismail Kadare (who won the International Man Booker Prize, and its short so worth a punt), Jorn Lier Horst (who I was recommended I would like for giving a very different twist on the cold crime genre) and Nadifa Mohammed (whose Black Mamba Boy I have always meant to read and haven’t and is one of the Granta Best Young British Novelists), all of whom I am going to give a try.

There are authors I know too of course. M.R.C. Kasasain’s The Mangle Street Murders was one of the books I mentioned in my ‘books to look out for in the second half of 2013’ on The Readers, I love a Victorian mystery and this looks like a great start of a new series with a duo with a new dynamic and looks at the roles of women in Victorian society, ace. Val McDermid I have been a big fan of for ages and am very excited to read the next Tony Hill and Caron Jordan series after how she left us with The Retribution, this time Tony is prime suspect in a crime. Kishwar Desai’s series is one I often tell myself off for not reading more of, this is her third so I really must read her second.

The last two books are from more famous authors I suppose you would say. Donna Tartt really needs no introduction at the moment as The Goldfinch has had more press and social media buzz than I have seen in a book in ages. It has really put me off and after hearing the last episode of The Readers, her publishers sent me this to see if I could be tempted. We will see. I loved The Secret History so I am not sure why I am so anti this one. Finally there is the memoir of Anjelica Huston (who I like to call Jelly Who-Who, and have been slightly obsessed by since she played the Grand High Witch in the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and as Morticia in The Addams Family) I can be a bit funny about celebrity memoirs but I find her a fascinating woman and apparently her mother was a great writer and it runs in the family by all reports. Actually a bit giddy about this one.

Next up, some more books to keep your eyes peeled for in 2014…

Coming 2014

Oh actually Essie Fox’s latest The Goddess and the Thief, another Victorian delight, is out at the start of December my mistake. Louise Welsh is back with A Lovely Way To Burn the start of a new trilogy which sounds like a crime set in a dystopian London from the blurb. Tim Winton is back with Eyrie a novel of a man who has shut himself off from the world and whose past comes to haunt him through some neighbours he meets. Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li (who I have meant to read for some time) also sees the past coming back to haunt three friends, now living continents apart, who were involved in a mysterious accident in their youths that saw a woman poisoned.

Eat My Heart Out is meant to be the debut of the Spring as Zoe Pilger has apparently written The Bell Jar meets The Rachel Papers, intriguing – Sam Byers loves this book. Lost tribes are hunted in 1950 in Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees which Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand has been raving about. If you like your books with a dark disturbing twist and sense of malice The Bear by Claire Cameron looks amazing as a camping trip goes horribly wrong and five year old Anna is left to fend for her and her three year old brother as her parents have disappeared and something is lurking in the woods.

Ray Robinson’s Jawbone Lake is one that will intrigue me personally as it is set in the Peak District, which is of course my homeland, and you know I love a good tale set in the countryside and a literary thriller, which apparently this is. I actually spent some time with Ray when he was writing it and we hunted murderous spots in Matlock – though I’ve noted there are no thanks for this tour in the author’s acknowledgements, the bugger, ha! This is probably going to be my next read.

Finally, blimey I have gone on, three books I bought when I fell into a second hand bookshop the other day…

Second Hand Treats

You will read my thoughts on A.M. Homes May We Be Forgiven in the next few weeks and suffice to say I am a bit on the fence with her. I think she’s an incredible writer but almost too good. That might sound crazy though it will make sense when you see my review; I decided to grab Jack as I want to try more of her work. Tove Jansson is an author many people, especially Simon T of Stuck in a Book, have recommended so I thought I would try her short stories. Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky I know NOTHING about but it was a silver Penguin Classic and so I thought ‘oh why not?’ and snapped it up.

Phew – that is more chatter than I had planned, I do apologise. So do tell me your thoughts on any of the books that are out, the ones that are coming and any of the authors mentioned. Oh and if you think this is a showy off post go here and see my thoughts on that. Also do let me know what books you have got your hands on lately or what you are keen to read, I look forward to hearing all about them.

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