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The Summer of the Bear

The Summer of the Bear

4.4 10
by Bella Pollen

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With her fifth novel, critically acclaimed writer and journalist Bella Pollen takes readers into the private dynamics of a family grappling with the loss of father and husband in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, where between elemental beauty and utter bleakness, strange forces are at play.

In 1980 Germany, under Cold War tension, a mole is suspected in the


With her fifth novel, critically acclaimed writer and journalist Bella Pollen takes readers into the private dynamics of a family grappling with the loss of father and husband in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, where between elemental beauty and utter bleakness, strange forces are at play.

In 1980 Germany, under Cold War tension, a mole is suspected in the British Embassy. When the clever diplomat Nicky Fleming dies suddenly and suspiciously, it’s convenient to brand him the traitor. But was his death an accident, murder, or suicide? As the government digs into Nicky’s history, his wife, Letty, relocates with her three children to a remote Scottish island hoping to salvage their family. But the isolated shores of her childhood retreat only intensify their distance, and it is Letty’s brilliant and peculiar youngest child, Jamie, who alone holds on to the one thing he’s sure of: his father has promised to return and he was a man who never broke a promise.

Exploring the island, Jamie and his teenaged sisters discover that a domesticated brown bear has been marooned on shore, hiding somewhere among the seaside caves. Jamie feels that the bear may have a strange connection to his father, and as he seeks the truth, his father’s story surfaces unexpected ways. Bella Pollen has an uncanny ability to capture the unnoticeable moments in which families grow quiet. A novel about the corrosive effects of secrets and the extraordinary imagination of youth, The Summer of the Bear is Pollen’s most ambitious and affecting book yet.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The Fleming family, having lost father and husband Nicky, a cold war-era British diplomat, in a mysterious accident early in this satisfying novel (after Midnight Cactus), leaves the embassy at Bonn for refuge in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. There they begin parallel lives, dealing with their grief separately and stumblingly as a number of threats to the family slowly mount. Of the children, Jamie, the youngest, wildly imaginative and cosseted by grownups, is forced to make his own sense of his father's disappearance; acerbic Alba is overcome with anger; and quiet, dutiful Georgie is simply set adrift. Then there's Letty, their mother, who retreats almost entirely as her grief becomes increasingly painful and she is forced to confront new and disturbing possibilities about her husband, namely, that he may have been involved in treasonous activities. The drama intensifies as an escaped bear haunts the narrative periphery and the Flemings' home becomes threatened by government development projects. Everything comes together, perhaps too neatly, but the real draw is Pollen's show-stealing, fantastic portrayal of the underparented children. (June)
From the Publisher

—An O Magazine Summer Reading Pick

"Affecting . . . Riveting . . . A thrilling tale that unravels mysteries of the human heart, The Summer of the Bear is spine-tingling."—People (4.5 stars)

“There’s magic at the margins of The Summer of the Bear. . . . The novel has a bit of the style of Lemony Snicket and a smidgeon of The Secret of Roan Inish. Pollen’s writing is clean and clear enough that you can really smell the peat smoke and feel the wind.”—Los Angeles Times

"What's real and what's imagined is at the heart of this gem of a novel, which is one part fairy tale, one part international thriller, and all-parts engrossing family drama. . . . Pollen's lyrical and often witty prose makes this a stirring tale of loss and self-discovery."—More

"Pollen's vivid descriptions of nature have the power to transport even the most harried city-bound reader to a cool, secluded, distant island."—O Magazine

"Pollen creates magic in The Summer of the Bear."—Vanity Fair

“Full of vivid detail . . . Pollen is an acute observer of people and places . . . a skilled dissector of the subtleties of sibling warfare.”—The Washington Post

“García Márquez meets le Carré meets A.A. Milne at times, with hints of William Golding at others . . . Moving, beautifully written . . . A sensitive and literate story told on several levels, all of them believable.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“Imaginative . . . A story with the spark of the unexpected . . . Readers will be captivated by Pollen’s characters and the warmth with which her magical tale unfolds.”—Bookpage

“A haunting, unsentimental look at estranged families and hidden secrets . . . Magically melancholy . . . Tender and wistful, Pollen doesn’t shy away from harsh truths, but at the heart of her story there’s an unquenchable belief in love and redemption.”—Marie Claire (UK)

"Pollen delivers a potent narrative about a family gripped by grief."—Chicago Post-Tribune

“I devoured Bella Pollen’s The Summer of the Bear and found it to be the perfect escape.”—Sadie Stein, The Paris Review

“Part fairy tale, part suspense thriller, this magical book grips hold of you, almost creating the sensation of an out-of-body experience—one that’ll keep you holding your breath until the very last minute.”—Easy Living (UK)

“[A] show-stealing, fantastic portrayal of under-parented children.”—Publishers Weekly

“Pollen sensitively and intricately takes each family member through painful stages of grief and longing.”—Booklist

“A sweet, affecting, well-wrought tale of a family torn apart and then reunited . . . will charm most fiction readers.”—Library Journal

“Bewitching . . . A heartfelt novel.”—Glamour (UK)

“The plotting is lucid, the dialogue crisp, and the characterization first class. It is a pleasure to spend time in the company of such a relaxed, polished, storyteller.”—Mail On Sunday

"The Summer of the Bear is a heartbreaking story about a family stranded on a Scottish island, shrouded in mystery."—In Style

"A gently absorbing tale which smoothly splices poignant family drama with suspenseful Cold War thriller."—Daily Mail

"Pollen is brilliant at portraying the bewilderment of the Fleming children. . . . This is a gentle, haunting tale that stayed with me long after I finished reading."—Daily Express

"The story of Jamie and siblings is heartbreaking but interspersed with a knowing humour as Pollen captures the subtle witticisms of the islanders as they bend and twist the story of the bear until it takes on a sort of mythical status."—Scotsman Magazine

"Part spy thriller and part ghost story, this book will keep you enthralled to the last page."—The Sunday Post

"Engaging . . . The Cold War mystery steals the show."—Veronique de Turenne, Barnes & Noble Review

"[An] unusual novel . . . [Pollen] excels in her portrait of East Berlin, a tense and paranoid regime of nefarious intent. Also evocative is her portrayal of the Outer Hebrides, always soft and gauzy with mist. The novel revels in the residue of dreams. . . . Touching and emotional."—Curled Up With a Good Book (blog)

Library Journal
In 1980s Berlin, there's evidence that the British Embassy was undermined by a mole, and when diplomat Nicky Fleming dies unexpectedly (was it murder? suicide?), it's easy enough to point the finger at him. Trying to protect her three children, his widow resettles in the Outer Hebrides, where odd but brilliant young Jamie discovers a brown bear while exploring the island with his teenaged sisters. Jamie believes that the bear is somehow connected to his father, and what really happened back in Berlin begins to emerge. A fascinating plot, and now that British author Pollen has two novels in film development, one must wonder whether she is heading for a breakout. With suggestions of both political and psychological tension, this should appeal to a wide range of readers.
Kirkus Reviews

García Márquez meets le Carré meets—well, A.A. Milne at times, with hints of William Golding at others.

In her moving, beautifully written fifth novel, Pollen (Midnight Cactus, 2006, etc.) serves up an improbable mix that, on the face, seems as if it shouldn't work. The main strand of narrative is something out of Cold War thrillerdom (whence le Carré): Letty Fleming's diplomat husband, posted to Berlin a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall, dies there, a victim of accident, murder or suicide—and, as their daughter Georgie notes, "In the matter of her father, the government had boxes to tick and files to close." But which is it? The British government seems to think that Nicholas Fleming has turned traitor, leaking military secrets to the East Germans, which still doesn't quite explain who relieved him of his life. A shocked Letty, with children in tow, retreats to the Outer Hebrides to sort things out, while the children attend to their own grief and confusion. In a fine evocation of young reasoning, Pollen has young son Jamie trying to make sense of it all, writing, "This much Jamie knew: his father had suffered an accident. He'd gone away for some time, then somehow—Jamie didn't fully comprehend how—his father had got lost." Jamie has a lively mind, even if sister Alba insists on calling him "retard," and he is quick to spot an unlikely vision, namely a painted grizzly bear on a passing bus. This conjures up a conversation about grizzlies with Dad, an admonition from Mom that "there are no bears in Scotland" and, in good time, some reckonings with the grizzly himself, who is quite a smart and sensitive fellow. Magical realism and totemic bear in place (whence García Márquez and Milne), what remains is for all concerned to sort out the mystery that Nicky's passing has given them—with a little flash ofLord of the Fliesin store for Jamie, intentional homage or no.

A sensitive and literate story told on several levels, all of them believable—if some of them improbable, too.

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

Bella Pollen is a writer and journalist who has contributed to a wide variety of publications including Vogue, The Observer, and The Sunday Telegraph. She is the author of four other novels including Midnight Cactus and Hunting Unicorns, which was a “Best Summer Read” on The Richard & Judy show.

Visit Bella's website at bellapollen.com

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The Summer of the Bear: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
Summer of the Bear begins with the death of Nicky Flemming. Working in the British Embassy in Germany, his accidental fall from the top of the embassy seems anything but accidental. The government agents assigned to investigate suspect suicide, saying that Nicky could have been a mole who was about to be caught. Stunned and prfoundly confused his wife, Letty, flees with their 3 children to her childhood summer home on an island in Scotland. There Letty falls into a numb cycle of trying to pretend she is ok while her mind runs constantly over the past looking for clues to Nicky's secret life. Meanwhile her children struggle too, Georgie with an overwhelming sense of guilt, Alba with pure and furious anger, and brilliant but simple Jamie with confusion. If his dad is lost it means he'll return one day, but why is it taking so long? In the end a crisis on the island along with an escaped bear brings everything to a head, revealing the children's struggles and answering the questions surrounding Nicky's death in a wholly unexpected way. More than anything I found Summer of the Bear to be a meditation on grief, the many differnt ways that people exerience it and how we can eventually come to live with it. Letty's sense of having been betrayed, Jamie's total denial that his dad is gone, Alba's unmitigated fury at everything, and Georgie's quiet guilt all show us the full range of emotions at the loose of a loved one. Set against the lonely and isolated backdrop of the island you can fully feel the hole Nicky has left in the life of his family. The mystery of his death adds some spark and helps keep the story moving forward and the fantasy of the bear helps it move to a conclusion. The story stalls a bit in the middle but picks up at the again with a great ending.
clanbryce More than 1 year ago
I am embarrassed by how long this novel sat in my Nook queue before I read it. Once I started it , I could not put it down. The story grabs you in the prologue. If you're looking for wild sex scenes and thrills-a-minute, keep searching. The raw emotions in this story will stay with you long after you have finished the book.
QueenMummy More than 1 year ago
The Summer of the Bear was amazingly intricate, deeply spiritual for me. Bella Pollan chose to describe an original cast of characters with such quirks that they could only be real. A family wholly dedicated to their dear father whose tragic death is the motivation for all that they do this one sad summer. A precious little boy's dogged devotion to his "Dada" and confusion over his loss is almost too painful. And then there are the two sisters, also struggling, each at turning points in their own lives, without the help of their deeply confused and grieving mother. This a masterpiece of interwoven stories that culminates with the beauty of simple trust and absolute beleif. I will remember this book for a long time!
Ragingsenior More than 1 year ago
I loved the story since you never really know what is next. The vocabulary is interesting also. It is a good read being laid up. I am healing with a fracture so much remain off my leg, etc. I read it on my Nook. The characters are interesting and believable. Set on the Scottish island it also gives on a sense of place. My only regret was that it wasn't longer since I grew attached to the characters. I love long books.
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