Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Book Review

Beartown by Fredrik Backman - Reading, Writing, Booking

"What happens to a town that doesn't grow? It dies."

Beartown will be released in paperback in the UK on 3rd May 2018. It is written by Fredrik Backman and published by Michael Joseph.

Although I did enjoy Beartown (also called The Scandal in the US), and I think there is some excellent writing and character studies, I didn't rate it as the five star masterpiece that everyone else seems to think it is. It's got a great setting and background but sometimes I felt it didn't really know what it was, it veered between thriller, coming of age and sports fiction, which isn't a problem, but there were elements  I felt didn't gel.

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.'
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. 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?

To be honest, my main issue with Beartown is that there is a bit too much teenage angst for me. Obviously it's set mainly in a school and with a teen hockey team at the centre, so there's going to be teenage dynamics, but I got a bit fed up with reading about who wanted to be popular and who fancied who. At times it felt like I was reading an episode of One Tree Hill (dating myself there!).

However, enough of the downer, Beartown is a good book and one I enjoyed, just maybe not 5 Stars worth. I really liked the setting of the tiny town in rural Sweden, giving the book a claustrophobic feel and also emphasising how important hockey is to the town. It also explores how a scandal can pull a whole community apart and the ripple effects the act has on a town.

I'm not particularly interested in sports but I don't think you need to be to enjoy, or even understand, the book, it's a device that gives the whole cast of characters something to rally around and/or hate and it's the life blood of the town.

Backman does well in his descriptions of characters, both physically and psychologically. I particularly liked Benji and the relationship between Amat and Bobo is interesting. However, I felt some were a little too like stock characters; the popular jock, the mum struggling between career and family etc. To be fair, Backman does delve deeper into their psyches than most, but I still felt I'd seen a lot of them before.

I could have done with a little more mystery and a little less teenage angst, but Beartown is still a good book and one that I was invested in.

My Rating: 3 Stars

I received a copy of Beartown, via NetGalley, in return for an honest review. My thanks to the author and publisher.

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