One review on 08 Jul 2023

First Published: 2013


Bear Witness

unlisted author

Summary: Releasing bears into the wild and the sex-life of a young female scientist

Date first read: Sat 8th Jul 2023

Format:   Paperback

Catalogued: 10th Jul 2023


Callis works as a research paleo-archaeologist in norway counting pollen grains in soil samples.  But she has a thing about bears and another thing about men.  She has a troubled relationship with her boss who clearly fancies her and is a control freak. On a trip back to Scotlans for her mther's funeral she remeets a childhood friend who she has a bit of a crush on, and a pair of feminist college friends. Also she visits an estate where there are bears roamng in captivity.

Returning to Norway the country is in uproar as the possibly last bear has just been publcly shot (legally) with her cub by an angry farmer. Governent is setting up a commission and Callis applies to join and is accepted. Difficulties ensue getting leave from the institute, but she goes on an initial fact finding tour to countries with bears - Romania and Finland. 

In Romanian she spends three days in the woods with Petyr, the local bear expert, and they develop a strong bond. In FInland she meets a pair of bear-mad eco-activists.

With all the elements in place so it progresses. Ultimately thanks to the outrageous manipulation of her boss trying to prevent her involvement with the Norwegian initiative, which fails with the first bear released entering a local town and being shot, she enlists the help of the Finns. Together they plan a release in NW Scotland and secretly import two bears, but the second one dies thanks to a delay releasing her. The finns also secretly release bears (from Russia) in Sami teritory in Northern Norway where the Sami respect bears. Finally she hatches a plan to let a bear escape from the estate where they are held. The landowner is clearly sympathetic and covers their tracks.

In the end her love life seems to be sorted out as her scottish boyfriend has turned out tobe a two-timing jerk and she is about to be reunited with the Romainian bear expert Petyr.


One part excellent, one part naff

by rogerco on Sat 8th Jul 2023.

We really could have done without allthe 20-something angst of sex. It was unconvincing at best and cringy at worst - it seemed todiminsh Callis as a strong character, or as a character discovering her strengths.

The eco story was strong, exploring the relationship between theoretical pure science (Callis's job), practical on the ground Goethian science (her encounters with live bears and living forests), science as a tool of politics (the Norwegian commission and the Euro and Scottish initiatives) and its interaction with people (changing public responses), and ecologerism - practical ecological philosophy intersecting with activism.

The back story of her college friends and a secret feminist society, together with her various couplings I found totally unconvincing, and made it much harder to like the lead character. Pretty soppy girly stuff.

Whilst reading it I was struck by the similarity with The Wold Border by Sarah Hall which Iread 7  years ago. It seeedlike  Mandy Haggith had taken the storyand added a romatic layer toit obscuring the core story - but on checking it seemsthe potential plagarism must have been theother way round with Sarah Hall stripping away the crud fromMandy's story and producing a much better book.

 Since they were written and published in fairlyquick succession (2013-2015) it is more likely tobe a case of synchronicity.