The Summer of the Bear

( 8 )

Overview

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....

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The Summer of the Bear

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Overview

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 Bearis Pollen’s most ambitious and affecting book yet.

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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)
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.
Library Journal
In summer 1979, a bear touring the British Isles with its trainer slips off its leash and paddles through the waves until it reaches the Outer Hebrides. It's soon spotted by Jamie Fleming, an imaginative if slightly off-balance lad who quickly associates the creature with his father. Nicky Fleming, once a rising star in the diplomatic corps, died mysteriously while serving in Bonn and has since been suspected of being a traitor. His devastated wife, Letty, seeks respite by bringing Jamie and his sisters, dutiful Georgie and rebellious Alba, to the family's vacation spot in the Hebrides, once her own home. There, she tries to piece together what Nicky really did (or didn't do) and whether his fall from the embassy roof was accident or suicide, even as oddly assorted townsfolk drop by, Alba turns shoplifter, and Jamie, who's never really understood that his dad is dead, comes to regard the bear as his savior. VERDICT The mystery here is satisfying (and effectively resolved), but this is not a spy novel despite Nicky's calling. It's a sweet, affecting, well-wrought tale of a family torn apart and then reunited and will charm most fiction readers. [See Prepub Alert, 11/29/10.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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.

The Barnes & Noble Review

The first character you meet in The Summer of the Bear, Brenda Pollen's engaging and occasionally aggravating fifth novel, is the titular bear. He's a grand old grizzly who has escaped his trainer during a swim in the sea of Minch off the Outer Hebrides, that wind-whipped clot of islands that dot Scotland's western coast. He sees his owner beckoning, urging him back to shore, but "a rope was a rope, whoever was tugging on the end of it. So he turned his back on the big man, dove under the salty waters of the Minch and, oblivious to the storm brewing on the horizon, swam on."

The brewing storm and the bear himself soon hold sway over the Fleming family, who are left reeling when father and husband Nicky, a Cold War-era diplomat, dies in a mysterious fall from the roof of the British embassy in Germany. Did Nicky jump? Was he pushed? And what about the growing whispers that Nicky, charged with keeping track of relations between East and West Germany had, in fact, turned out to be a traitor?

Letty, Nicky's stunned and grieving widow, gathers together her three children and heads for safe haven in the Outer Hebrides. Alba, the middle child, is in the throes of teen rebellion. She's got a hell of a cruel streak, one she's unable and unwilling to control. Alba aims the brunt of her considerable rage at her younger brother, Jamie, a gentle soul with a rich and deep inner life. Jamie seems to have a condition akin to autism, which wreaks havoc with his ability to communicate. The eldest daughter, Georgie, teeters on the brink of adulthood.

On the island, the family unravels. Letty disappears into her grief. Alba gives free rein to her cruelty. Georgie is left alone to deal with her emerging sexuality. Jamie, meanwhile, has taken literally the euphemisms of death and believes his father is, in fact, lost. On the trip from Germany to Scotland, the boy has left his father a series of maps and clues so Nicky can re-join the family. Jamie soon comes to believe his father has taken the form of a bear and is sending him messages.

Pollen tells the tale from each character's point of view--including the bear's. She hops back and forth in time, filling in back story as she goes. We see Nicky and Letty's courtship, follow Alba's descent into juvenile delinquency, see Georgie's dissolve into the delight of first love. With bear getting as many chapters as the humans, aware of the Fleming family, wondering and thinking about them, there's more than a little magical thinking going on.

Though the core of The Summer of the Bear follows the fractured family's struggles, it's the Cold War mystery that steals the show. Georgie, who went with her father to East Germany on a diplomatic mission one day, knows a fateful secret. After plodding through much of her tale, Pollen suddenly gets to plotting. Missile ranges appear. Corrupt officials are exposed. Daring recues take place. Everything you ever wanted to know about Jamie is revealed. And yes, the bear is there, right until the end.

--Veronique de Turenne




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802119742
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/7/2011
  • Pages: 448
  • 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 2, 2011

    An interesting meditation on grief

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 23, 2011

    Great read

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 29, 2014

    I am embarrassed by how long this novel sat in my Nook queue bef

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2013

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    '6

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 27, 2011

    Excellent read!

    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!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 6, 2011

    An exploration of grief with a surprise ending

    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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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