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Family drama in remote Scotland
on 6 June 2011
After the father dies in an accident in Germany, an English family consisting of the widow, two teenage girls, and a son of eight moves to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland where the family have a cottage. They all lived in 1980s (Cold War) Germany because Nicky, the father, was a diplomat for the British government there. His death is considered suspicious by his colleagues.
Mother Letty is falling apart and cannot look after her children. Alba is the middle child and running wild. She is sulky and negative the whole time and bullies her small brother, Jamie. Georgie is the oldest child and seems to cope best.
Jamie hasn't quite understood what has happened to his father (or hasn't wanted to understand it) and believes his father has had an accident and has gone away (as he's been told "Your father is gone"). He keeps looking for his father everywhere and when a bear is on the loose on their Scottish Island, he believes it may be connected to his father.
Letty, even though she's almost catatonic with grief, manages to find out bit by bit what has happened to Nicky, her husband, and whether he's has been spying against his country, or is in fact, a hero.
This story started off well, with the family moving to Scotland after the death of the father. I love to read about remote places and this certainly was one. So I hoped to be swept away, virtually, by the wind and the sea. But unfortunately, this didn't happen for me. I could envisage the place and the weather quite well, but it was from a little distance, rather than directly in the story. In other words, I didn't feel "present" in the story.
The way the family was coping with the recent loss and the move to the remote island was described very well and was absolutely believable. The mother, Letty, did not have any energy to look after her children, Alba took it out on her young brother especially, Georgie went her own quiet way, and Jamie was searching for clues as to where his father had gone.
There was one major problem I had with the book, and that was the bear in the title. This was a rather anthropomorphic bear. For instance, it recognized that a piece of paper in a bottle was a map of Europe, it finds a wooden box from the Ukraine, Irish naval uniforms. It thinks walruses are interesting because they can explore ship wrecks.
This could work, if there were other elements of magical realism or other thinking animals. But just this one bear? It didn't work for me.
The story was built up well. I liked the family and wanted to know what would happen. It was an easy read and I read it within a few days. An original idea, for sure!