This book is as different from The Man Called Ove as any book could possibly be, but, it is just as unforgettable. Fredrik Backman is a wonderful author. This book appears to be about ice hockey, but it is more about small town prejudices, secrets, violence and support for neighbours in tough times. It is about how a shocking event affects people and families and the ripple effects from that event.. Beartown is a small northern community in Sweden. They have gone from a thriving town with three or four schools to a town with two schools and lots of empty storefronts on the main street. Some industry has shut down and there has been no new industry started. But they live and breathe hockey, and they have a hockey organization funded by local sponsors that boasts a hot junior team. We meet all the players and their parents and other family members as we read this book. Backman does a great job of characterization and these characters are so well-drawn. The whole town is electrified and lthey are ooking forward to great things from their Junior team. Their team is about to compete in the national championships, and they actually have a chance to win! Bearttown is putthing their hopes and dreams on a team of teenage boys. The pressure is intense on these young men, and it is the touchstone for an act of violence that rocks the whole town. No one in Beartown is immune to the fallout of this horrific act. Backman illustrates so well how each person in Beartown is affected by it from the two individuals that were involved right down to the rest of the team, siblings, family, friends, and the rest of the entire community. The shockwaves are tremendous and the town is forever changed. I loved the book and recommend it highly. It is certainly not a feel-good novel, but it is a very clear illustration of what life in a small town is like in this modern world and what individuals must do to survive in a hostile environment.
The Scandal (also titled Beartown) is the fourth full-length novel by Swedish blogger, columnist and author, Fredrik Backman. It is translated from Swedish by Neil Smith. As remote as this place in the forest is, and barely surviving economic downturns, closures and redundancies, Beartown has one thing going for it: the Beartown Ice Hockey Club Juniors. While the A Team is pretty well hopeless, the Juniors have a star who might just get them to the Final in the big city. And that would bring the attention of sponsors and investors and governing bodies. A kick start for the town would be most welcome, as even those Beartown residents who don’t like ice hockey will acknowledge.
But in the hubris of an interim win, someone steps beyond the bounds of the decency that could be expected, and that whole promising future is thrown into jeopardy.
Backman’s opening sentence tantalises the reader: “Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s head and pulled the trigger.” The mystery of who and how and why is gradually revealed, and involves some twists and a red herring or two, as well as a good dose of philosophising, quite a lot of social commentary and much ice hockey.
Backman is very skilled at the short vignette that describes his minor characters, and also certain important incidents in the lives of major characters. None of his characters is one-dimensional: all have flaws and most have a conscience; some disappoint and some surprise; many keep secrets and some act out of guilt or the hope to protect their loved ones from hurt.
In this tale, Backman touches on several topical themes: the behaviour of sporting team members off the field; peer pressure and bullying; “blame the victim” mentality; loyalty and responsibility; the tacit acceptance of the violence inherent in contact sport; and the sense of entitlement that often affects the privileged.
Yes, there is a lot of Ice Hockey in this story, but it could actually be centred around any team sport in a remote town to the same effect. There is a very slow build-up to the climax, which may be frustrating for some readers, but patience is rewarded. Backman presents moral and ethical dilemmas in a realistic fashion, but is his formula wearing just a little thin? This is a very good read, but not a brilliant one.