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by Fredrik Backman

Beartown by Fredrik Backman X
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 432 pages
    Feb 2018, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan

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Patty Wilkins

I thought it was excellent . . . great character development. But I must know which of the four boys died. I don't want it to be Benjie!

Best one yet
The author of the international bestseller, A Man Called Ove, is back! On the surface, Beartown is a novel of a small town where every man, woman, and child is obsessed by hockey, driven to watch, cheer, and kowtow to anyone connected to the rink, and willing to look the other way for both small as well as life-changing offenses. Yet, hockey only grazes the surface. This is the story of Amat, the phenom who skates for free while his mother cleans the rink. It is the story of David, who needs to win and will motivate his boys any way he can. It is the story of Benji, a player with a huge heart and an even bigger secret. And it is the story of a family and a girl, whose core belief in their town, in what is true and honorable and right, is shaken to its very core. All these dynamic characters are drawn together and tested as a terrible tragedy strikes the hockey family, and ultimately the entire town. This story will sear your heart, force you to question your own actions, and make you cheer for the heroes that emerge. Backman is back...and this is his most powerful book yet.
Power Reviewer
Cloggie Downunder

a very good read, but not a brilliant one.
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.
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