A writer’s obsession with the story of Marguerite de la Rocque leads her to question how women’s stories have been told, and how she will tell her own.
Blending autofiction and the essay, The Bear Woman takes us on a journey of feminism and literary detective work that spans centuries and continents. In the 1540s, a young French noblewoman, Marguerite de la Rocque, was abandoned by her guardian on an island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence with her maidservant and her lover. In present-day Stockholm, an author and mother of three becomes captivated by the image of Marguerite sheltered in a dark cave all alone after her companions have died.
The image is an anchor that soon becomes an obsession. She must find out the real story of the woman she calls the Bear Woman. But so much in this history is written so as to gloss over male violence. And that maps and other sources she consults are at times undecipherable.
We meet fellow chroniclers of the Bear Woman, such as Queen Marguerite de Navarre, the most powerful woman in Europe, but whose Heptameron (1558) was unjustly dismissed as the writings of a dabbler. We follow the author on a research trip to Paris where she is accompanied by her teenage daughter and the specter of herself as a younger woman, to dinner tables in Mexico and Sweden, to the map division of the New York Public Library, and to bookstores and celebrity hotels in California during the wildfires. Ramqvist explores what it means to write history, how women’s stories have been told, and wonders, in this time of narrative fatigue and a new wave feminism that the author does not quite relate to, where we have gotten ourselves to.
“Karolina Ramqvist writes with frosty precision the kind of literature that is unforgettable. Her portraits of women hit deep into bone and marrow.” – Dorthe Nors, author of A Line in the World
“Ramqvist’s acute rendering of embodied sensual experience combined with her evocation of her double character’s increasingly desperate circumstances create a story of high tension, startling insights, and lasting resonance.” – Siri Hustvedt, author of Mothers, Fathers and Others
“One of my favorite discoveries from this year.” – Samanta Schweblin, author of Little Eyes
“Ramqvist is a serious contender for the Swedish literary limelight.” – Shelf Awareness