Title: Beartown (also published as ‘The Scandal’)
Author: Frederik Backman
Series: Beartown #1
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Beartown is a small town in a large Swedish forest.
For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.
Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. Change is in the air and a bright new future is just around the corner.
Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.
No one can stand by or stay silent. You’re on one side or another.
Which side will you find yourself on?
Beartown is a dark, slow burner of a novel about a small Swedish town that puts great pressure on its Hockey team, which it holds in VERY high regard. Those players are treated like Kings, which has a real knock-on effect on how they treat other people around them. The pressure that the team feels to be the best has an effect on everyone involved – the general manager Peter, the coaches, the parents of the teenagers playing on the team… and it all leads to a terrible incident.
We follow various people connected to the team in the run-up to ‘the thing that happened’ and we see the tension start to rack up, and simmering resentments come to the surface. We see loyalty – both in friends and families – and blind denial. We see guilt, sadness and unrequited affection.
It all comes out throughout this novel. I found myself struggling to get into it for the first quarter or so – it’s quite slow to get going (in fact the whole book is fairly slow paced) – but I began to feel more absorbed in the characters as the novel went on. I listened to a lot of this on audiobook and read some of it too, and I thought the audiobook narration was really good.
This is definitely a big change from some of Frederik’s previous novels. It’s definitely darker and more brooding, and slower in its pace, but it manages to do a great job of grabbing the reader emotionally and not letting them go. There are some parts where I felt devastated for certain characters, and incredibly angry towards others.
Beartown is written beautifully, and you really feel yourself understanding the community there even if you don’t agree with how they’ve behaved. The cold, icy landscape felt like a character in itself, and definitely reflects the way some people in Beartown behaved toward others. I could never imagine living in an area being so obsessed with a sport in this way, but I’ve no doubt it is the case for many towns, and it’s interesting to read about even if you have no interest in the sport in question (as I don’t!)
I’d recommend this novel if you fancy something that will make you think, with a powerful setting.