‘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 forehead and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.’
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. 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.
With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.
Which side would you be on?
I have experienced huge surges of emotion reading this book. From pride and fear to anger and hope, this is a book which will leave you quivering as you reach for your hankie.
25% into this book I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. By the end, I didn’t just like it, I loved it. It slowly and carefully painted a multi-layered picture for me of a town with nothing going for it except a pretty decent junior hockey team. That team isn’t just the metaphor for hope; it is the only thing in the whole damn town that actually offers any hope. Everything rides on it, from the pride people feel in the town because of the team, to the jobs that could be created if the team is successful in the national semi-finals and finals and is therefore selected to become the home of the National Hockey training Centre.
Backman is such a skilled story teller; he carefully reveals character studies of each and every one of his characters in Beartown. These are beautifully rich vignettes which help to underline attitudes, backgrounds and relationships until you can almost see this town, nestling on its own, secluded in the midst of the cold forest. Beartown is a town where industry is dying and young people are looking for somewhere else to go. It is only the hockey and for the adults, alcohol, that keeps everyone’s spirits alive.
“Sometimes the entire community feels like a philosophical experiment: If a town falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it matter at all?”
Backman takes his time setting this entire picture out and it is so worth it. Because when the single act of brutality happens, you understand the effect that this is going to have on everyone, and just why no-one in the town can be left unaffected. Sides will be taken. Reputations will be won or lost. Nothing will ever be the same again. Everyone in town is a member of the hockey tribe, but if that tribe is at war with itself, what then becomes of the town?
The Scandal is a book about belonging – belonging to a tribe or being a lone outsider. It’s about leadership and values; about the power of friendship and the importance of personal integrity. In a town where winning is all that matters, what is the right thing to do?
This is a weighty read and really quite a dark one, but it is so worthwhile. Rarely does a piece fiction cause me to examine myself in such an objective way, because this is also a book about values and judgements.
What would you have done? Read it and find out.
The Scandal is published by Michael Joseph on 10th August 2017
About Fredrik Backman
Born in June 1981, Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, as well as a novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. Fredrik Backman, Swedish author, journalist, and blogger, was voted Sweden’s most successful author in 2013.
Backman grew up in Helsingborg, studied comparative religion but dropped out and became a truck driver instead. When the free newspaper Xtra was launched in 2006, the owner reached out to Backman, then still a truck driver, to write for the paper. After a test article, he continued to write columns for Xtra.
In spring 2007, he began writing for Moore Magazine in Stockholm, a year-and-a-half later he began freelancing, and in 2012 he became a writer for the Metro.His books are published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Initially published as Beartown, The Scandal is his latest novel.