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Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I’ve had three of Fredrik Backman’s books waiting patiently on my bookshelves for a while now. Not one of those was Beartown but when one of the book groups I’m in chose it as this month’s read, Beartown became my first Backman.

In a large Swedish forest Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart. And each year more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered a bright new future. But 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.

Who will speak up? Could you stand by and stay silent? Or would you risk everything for justice? Which side would you be on?

You don’t need to follow or even like sports, let alone ice hockey, to enjoy Beartown. Its people will draw you into their stories long before before the sport is caught up in the blades of a moral face-off. But if, like me, you are a sports fan, you’ll find yourself whispering, “Oh yes, this!” and nodding along to paragraphs.

Backman nails all the complexities of sport, whether you love it or hate it, play it, coach it or support it, or simply live in a town where it dominates life. He taps into that all too human feeling of wanting to belong, of sharing in something good, of coming together with others and not feeling so alone, together with the darker side, such as the culture surrounding it, rough physicality, the violence, and its pack mentality.

Fredrik Backman writes people very well; he populates his novel with a myriad of characters and each and every one of them rings true. (For those of you worried about there being a large cast of characters, I wouldn’t be here – they’re fairly easily distinguishable.)

I enjoyed seeing how types repeated from one generation to the next but also how these differed in their responses. Because while Beartown may be a novel about a sports team and the culture surrounding it, this is fundamentally a novel about its people: their passions, their successes, their failings and those even more devastating momentary lapses, and their reaction to key moments in their lives.

It is fascinating to see who rises to the challenge, and who behaves badly or to type. As with most things, there will be winners and losers, unexpected champions and those whose cause you’ll want to champion.

Beartown is a superb sports novel but it’s an even better small town novel. Isolated and broken, focused around the one thing the town still has to be proud of, Beartown resembles and reflects the people who live there. I absolutely loved Beartown and am thrilled that Backman’s written its sequel Us Against You. I didn’t want to leave Beartown behind, so I’m clearly excited about the chance to go into extra time.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is published by Penguin Books UK and is available as an audiobook, an ebook, in hardback (where its title is The Scandal) and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it through Hive and support your local independent bookshop.

Fredrik Backman is the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove which has been made into a film. To find out more about Fredrik Backman and his books, check out his Author Website, his Facebook page or follow him on Instagram or on Twitter

I’ve since bought my own paperback but my thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley.  

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