Bear, by Marian Engel (Toronto, 1976), winner of the Governor-General's Award, has been called the most controversial novel ever written in Canada because of its heroine's erotic relationship with a bear.

Lou is a lonely, middle-aged archivist who ekes out a molelike existence in the city, alienated from the natural world. Her summer journey to a wooded island in northern Ontario on a historical research assignment becomes a spiritual awakening; after her gradual communion with primitive forces in the wilderness, she is profoundly transformed, reborn as a fully integrated person, ready to start a new life in the city.

Although Engel's unconventional, imaginative tale has an economical, unpretentious prose style and a deceptively simple plot, the novel achieves its power through the complex symbolic and mythic levels on which it operates.