The Bear Woman

In 1541, a young woman named Marguerite de La Rocque accompanies her male guardian on one of the first French colonial expeditions to the New World. After a sexual scandal aboard the ship, she is punished and abandoned on an uninhabited island in the North Atlantic, where she faces off against wild animals and the elements, incredibly surviving against all odds. Centuries later, a contemporary author comes across the legend of the Bear Woman and becomes obsessed.

Approaching Marguerite the only way she knows how – by writing – the author is made acutely aware of her own writing process: both as a shield against and as a way of understanding the world she lives in. She finds herself the mother of three young children, enduring a harsh winter and an even colder cultural climate. Gradually, the author’s life becomes intertwined with Marguerite’s, a literary figure as much as a figment of her own imagination. The more the author digs through historical archives, the more uncertain she becomes of who Marguerite really was, and of her own motivations for writing about her.

Penned in an essayistic style in the vein of Marguerite Duras, The Bear Woman is a meditation on womanhood and on the act of writing as much as it is a story of survival – Marguerite’s and the author’s. In her characteristic sparsely elegant prose, leading Scandinavian writer and feminist Karolina Ramqvist tackles questions of what it is to be a woman who writes, as well as what a story is and who has the right to tell it.

With shared themes that transcend the centuries that divide two seemingly very different lives, The Bear Woman offers insight into the solitary nature of the writing life, and the currency of being a woman then and now.

The Bear Woman begins with death and darkness, but is really about life when it burns at its hottest. It is a multi-layered portrayal of survival, motherhood, and the true motives of a text. […] Similar to authors like Ariel Levy, Sheila Heti, and Maggie Nelson, Karolina Ramqvist portrays life’s components in so many layers that The Bear Woman deserves to be read over and over again. […] Ramqvist’s story – it’s shattering, one that pierces both mind and heart.”

“A beautiful and unforgettable tale of women, history and survival.”

“In her new book, which is a fusion of novel and essay, Karolina Ramqvist breaks new ground in an ambitious story about a woman who lived during the 16th century. It is spontaneous, beautiful and captivating.”

“Karolina Ramqvist’s The Bear Woman is an outstanding novel. […] After just a few pages, I am hooked and am forced to constantly moisten my thumb to turn the pages quicker. The novel, the book, grows into a complex and philosophical work about life, death, body, soul, femininity, power, money, the past and present, parenthood, truth, lies and how writing ties to truth-telling and honesty relates to all this. Karolina Ramqvist’s prose is exact and transparent. The text is full of tangible details and it is a luxury to read this dense and thought-provoking book.”

Karolina Ramqvist is one of the most influential writers and feminists of her generation in Sweden. She has written five novels in 2015 she was awarded the prestigious P.O. Enquist Literary Prize for The White City. Her latest novel The Bear Woman was published in September, 2019.

Learn more about Karolina Ramqvist