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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Review: A Bear Called Euston By Keillor Robertson

I am not quite sure how to go about reviewing this book, because it is either totally awful or absolutely brilliant... I certainly lean towards the absolutely brilliant side. It has been a while since a book made me laugh out loud in public. I mean at home is one thing, but on a packed bus of nervy, irritated people dying to get home, well that is another story altogether. But that is what happened as I read A Bear Called Euston. Let’s begin with a synopsis:

Once upon a time there were two bears. One was polite, cuddly and cute. The other one hated his guts...If you were to come across a small, cute, defenseless, cuddly little bear at a railway station who was both courteous and utterly endearing...it wouldn't be this one. This bear was foul-mouthed, obnoxious, violent and utterly filthy not only in terms of his personal hygiene but also in every thought and most of his deeds. That didn't bother the Wood family. They adopted him and took him home with them. They may have had their own reasons for doing so, but the little bear certainly had other plans. When he first arrived from darkest Colombia, the little bear didn't know anyone in London. That was all soon to change.

Mr Wood looked like a very respectable man...Sometimes looks can be deceiving. Euston looked like a foul, disgusting, vicious, scheming little piece of crap. Sometimes looks can be spot on. Settling in to a very comfortable lifestyle with the Woods, Euston causes no end of chaos for the family, and when he finds that his most hated rival, his sworn enemy, his closest relative is living just round the corner, Euston begins plotting a despicable campaign that will satisfy his lust for revenge.

In what is either pure genius or utter madness Keillor Robertson has taken the image, idea and purpose of a teddy bear and turned in completely upside down, inside out and back-to-front. Euston Bear is everything he should not be and nothing that he should be. His appearance, his behaviour, it is all pretty outrageous, but interestingly enough what would seem vulgar beyond acceptance on a human character, is vulgar-but-utterly hilarious in the character of this little bear. However, Euston is one of the normal characters when compared to  the dodgy, bear-loving Mr Wood, his neurotic wife, his out-of-control daughter, and  his mistreated-beyond-belief housekeeper (more like slave), who are the most interesting cast of characters I have come across in a while.

The best characteristic of this book is the constant tongue in cheek. The narrator’s voice is wonderful, it tells the tale as though reading it a child, though this book is clearly not suitable for children (as the “Warning: Adult Content” sign on the front cover demonstrates) but it also has a sarcastic, critical tone, that is both mocking and understanding at times. The narrator is like a judge overseeing the story, not directly taking sides either way, but certainly helping to expose the truth behind each scene and action. It is also interesting that the supposedly most deviant characters, Euston and Rebecca, are in fact those that have the most clarity about the world around them; they are the most straightforward and, in a strange way, the most sane. On the other hand the supposedly respectable characters are in fact rather strange with shameful secrets and desires. Through Euston’s eyes and Rebecca’s outbursts, the true nature of their surroundings is revealed.  Would it go too far to say that his book has a sociological or anthropological undertone? Perhaps, but the critical nature of the book is brilliant.

However, I return to my original point: I love this book because it made me laugh so much. Too much foul language for my personal tastes, although the letters were carefully replaced with symbols, but that is just me in general I suppose. A Bear Called Euston is utterly hilarious; if you want a book that will make you laugh, this is the one. Genius, I tell you.

Thank you to Euston Bear and Prion Books.

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