Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

(Originally published as The Scandal in hardback)

Genre: General fiction

Similar to: All of Backman’s other work like A Man Called Ove. 

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of ice hockey or overly wordy fiction

Publication date: 3rd May 2018

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I thought I’d love this book but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me ages to read and because I didn’t fully connect with the storyline I really wasn’t sure how to review it. So apologies in advance if my review makes no sense – I’m still trying to process my thoughts. 

Beartown or The Scandal (christ, even the name is confusing) is set in a small town in a Sweedish forest. The town is in decline – industry is waning, people are leaving but those who are left all have one thing in common – a fierce love for their ice hockey team. But when their star player commits a terrible crime the town is divided – did he really do it? Is it really his fault? And should his alleged actions go unpunished for the greater good of the team and the town? What follows is an examination of the issue from about 35 different perspectives, all from characters with similar sounding names.

I found this book incredibly confusing. I really struggled to keep track of who was who and what their relationships were with each other, let alone how they felt after the incident. There seems to be something about the way that Fredrik Backman writes that I just don’t like (I also struggled to get into A Man Called Ove). I think it’s his scant character descriptions that initially throw me, plus the rate at which he cycles through each of them that kept drawing me out of the story to check who was who. 

I also found the pacing of the storyline incredibly slow. There’s very little action until a shocking event half way through, then a forensic examination of how the townspeople react. And that’s it. When you’re not sure what the difference between Bobo and Benji is, or where the fuck Lyt came from it’s kind of hard to care about what they think, especially when you’ve got no context for understanding why they might feel that way. 

I have to admire the way that “the issue” was explored. I liked how Backman presented different topics – class, race, privilege, power, money, the success of your children and blended them together to essentially explain the reactions of the town’s residents. Ultimately though, I found the novel really depressing. There’s no doubt that an incident took place (a horrible, illegal incident) but I didn’t feel like there was any kind of satisfactory resolution. It made me feel powerless, as I couldn’t see what the answer should (or even could) have been. I’m sure that’s what the author intended but urgh, it made me want to weep for humanity. Also, I’m not sure that threatening someone with a shotgun is a particularly responsible portrayal of the only way to get revenge on a criminal. What was it trying to say – the law doesn’t work so you need to take matters into your own hands? I can only hope that it doesn’t put anyone off from reporting a crime of this nature. 

Ultimately, I’m aware that everyone loved this book – and you probably will too – so please don’t be put off by my review. It just wasn’t for me.
You can all go ahead and tell me how wrong I am in the comments now ๐Ÿ˜‚ 

Rating: Two and a half not-so-jolly-hockey-sticks out of five. 

Confusing and depressing, I really wasn’t a fan.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!


7 thoughts on “Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

  1. My mom got me a copy of “Your Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” one Christmas but I haven’t read it yet. I can certainly see how a bunch of generic viewpoint characters with similar-sounding names could be off-putting! I’ll eventually read the book by this guy my mom got me and then I’ll decide for myself whether I like his writing style or not. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also took ages to review this one, cos I wasn’t sure what I felt (you can probably remember my mixed feelings cos of our discussion at the time) I struggled a little getting into this book too and agree that it’s really depressing. I get what you mean about worrying about whether this will deter people from reporting crimes. Anyway, great review! Really get where you’re coming from here

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes I do remember our discussion – I’m still not entirely sure how I feel and I have no idea how we can improve the situation for everyone involved in an accusation of sexual assault. I found out last week there’s going to be a sequel (which I will be avoiding) – I’m sure if you read it we can have another 2am debate ๐Ÿ˜œ


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