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Susan's Review 

Julia Philips’ debut work Disappearing Earth (2019) is one of my favourite contemporary novels. An interlinked series of stories following the abduction of two young children offers a compelling portrait of ethnic and class divisions set in the Kamchatka Peninsula at the north-eastern edge of Russia. (If you haven’t read it, please treat yourself.) Five years later comes Philips’ second novel, Bear. Set in a Pacific Northwest Island just after the Covid pandemic, Bear is an utterly confounding and darkly enigmatic story about sisterly love, grief, class differences, and betrayal. Centred on the characters of two close sisters in their twenties and seen from the perspective of the younger sister Sam, the novel charts their difficulties in trying to eke out a living in tedious jobs while caring for their dying mother. While Sam chafes against the restrictions of her life, she also takes comfort in her older sister Elena’s promise of a better future once their beloved mother has passed away. They will sell their run-down house on a large piece of land and find the freedom, economic prosperity and adventure that Sam has craved since her childhood.

But then everything changes with the dramatic appearance of a gigantic grizzly bear just outside the flimsy wall of the family’s house. The bear leaves without incident, and then a few days later, the bear returns. While Sam is understandably frightened, Elena is entranced; she finds the bear magnificent, awe-inspiring; she tells her sister that the creature makes her feel “alive” in a way she hasn’t felt for years. Sam watches with increasing trepidation as Elena feeds the bear, befriends it, urges her sister to share the wonder of the experience. But Bear is not a story about an extraordinary encounter between the human and the non-human: the kind of stories found on video clips and documentaries about humans becoming life-long friends with lions or chimpanzees. Philips is more interested in the arrival of the bear as an entry into a narrative that skilfully blends fairy-tale and crime fiction; a story in which the seemingly unbreakable sisterly bond begins to unravel with increasingly unsettling consequences.
The woods in which the bear appears are both nightmarish and magical, their fairy-tale atmosphere counterpointed by the use of the red herrings of crime fiction: romantic possibilities, a kindly neighbour, an authority figure who might or might not be a source of rescue. But what ultimately prevails in this gripping novel is the sense that people, even those with whom we have shared a lifetime of trust, are essentially unknowable to each other. Even more disturbingly, how little we know ourselves.
Bear is unmissable. Like the monstrous size and terrifying claws of the creature in the woods, it will leave you at once disturbed and exhilarated. It will leave you questioning the complexities of human motivation, and the permeable borders between love, disappointment and the desire for revenge. Bear will be available in July; I urge you to order a copy. 

Publisher's Review 

A mesmerising novel of two sisters on a Pacific Northwest island whose lives are upended by an unexpected visitor - a tale of family, obsession, and a mysterious creature in the woods, by the celebrated, bestselling author of Disappearing Earth.

They were sisters and they would last past the end of time.

Sam and her sister, Elena, dream of another life. On the island off the coast of Washington where they were born and raised, they and their mother struggle to survive. Sam works long days on the ferry that delivers wealthy mainlanders to their vacation homes while Elena bartends at the local golf club, but even together they can't earn enough to get by, stirring their frustration about the limits that shape their existence.

Then one night on the boat, Sam spots a bear swimming the dark waters of the channel. Where is it going? What does it want? When the bear turns up by their home, Sam, terrified, is more convinced than ever that it's time to leave the island. But Elena responds differently to the massive beast. Enchanted by its presence, she throws into doubt the plan to escape and puts their long-held dream in danger.

A story about the bonds of sisterhood and the mysteries of the animals that live among us - and within us - Bear is a propulsive, mythical, rich novel from one of the most acclaimed young writers in America.

'The beautiful and haunting latest from Phillips (Disappearing Earth) ... The bear provides a vehicle for the author's masterful characterisation, as the sisters clash over their perception of the grizzly's meaning in their lives, and for the increasingly suspenseful plot. Phillips prefaces the story with an excerpt from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Snow-White and Rose-Red", about two sisters who play with a bear, which sets a simultaneously playful and ominous tone and contrasts powerfully with the novel's supremely executed realism. This is brilliant.'
- Publishers Weekly, starred review.