Bears of England by Mick Jackson

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Bears of England by Mick Jackson

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An interesting quirk, from an interesting quirk, but I didn't find the mix of fiction and fairytale to be quite as zesty as it should have been. Still bears consideration, though.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571242405

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As you know, England has had a chequered history when it comes to her bears. From the days when we only knew them as horrors making bumping noises - among many others - in the night, we have learnt more, and used them more. Therefore we have this short little book, detailing some of the more remarkable instances of Anglo-bear relations, from the days of bear-baiting, to them being shot at when they escaped the circus, to when they were employed in subaquatic labour in the days before SCUBA gear...

This is a set of eight short stories, that don't appear to be linked - at least, at first. But there is a general story arc that guides us to something that relates to the situation of today. Perhaps.

My 'perhaps's and 'as you know's' are my feeble attempt to put across the frivolity of this book. But as the four years in the making tag suggests it has a lot more complexity to it. I am sure were I to check the history of Winchester Cathedral I would come across something like what's in here. I am also sure some bear or other did surpass allcomers in the baiting ring and become a folk hero. The narrative style is straight and in an unembellished style, so one reads what we get as verite, as accurate. But at the same time, right from the opening legend, there is no serious suggestion that this is honest non-fiction.

That initial tale is perhaps the best, as it has a rounded conclusion, and it bears (no pun intended) more familiarity with the folk tales and suchlike the book emulates. Beyond that there was not so much a major step down in quality, but a lack of zest to go with the quirks. I really enjoyed the conclusion of chapter six, but elsewhere I expected a little more sprightliness, overt cleverness and showiness to marry fancy and fact together.

In the best of worlds this might have been something like Italo Calvino married to the Brothers Grimm, and at times the unusual balance of the fiction here does merit a lot of respect. But I didn't find the best of worlds in these covers. I liked the effort from all - the ancient bill-poster cover design, the spiky pictures, and the legend approach to something as oddball as English bears, but I think there was a gap between what we got and what it could have been.

I must thank the Faber and Faber people for their review copy.

If you're a fan of short stories then we can recommend The Last Bachelor by Jay McInerney. You might also appreciate Simon Snootle and Other Small Stories by Lorin Morgan-Richards.

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