My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Wow… This book was not at all what I was expecting, I actually put off reading it because I didn’t think it’d be my thing but…. wow.
Brilliant, powerful, atmospheric, frustrating, emotional, hopeful, beautiful and cold. The writing in this book is incredible, I think I ended up highlighting most of the book.
‘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. Change is in the air and 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.
No one can stand by or stay silent. You’re on one side or another.
Which side will you find yourself on?
I have to admit I kind of wish they’d kept the title of this book as Beartown rather than The Scandal for the UK market as this story is about so much more than one event, it’s the story of a town, of a community. Yes there is a scandal (although I personally think that’s the wrong word to describe what happens) but really it’s about the environment that allowed such a thing to happen and the reaction of the residents and neighbours when it does.
It’s about a community that’s slowly being destroyed and has one final hope, one last chance, one thing they can be proud of and how they’ll go to any lengths to protect it. It’s about belief, faith, determination, hope and bravery but also about divisions in class and status, despair, grudges and inequality. It’s also about ice hockey, which may be only a game, but for the residents of Beartown hockey is everything. It both unites them and divides them. It’s their one final hope to save a town in the middle of nowhere which is slowly disappearing.
It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.
I have to confess I know very little about hockey but for this story you could just as easily substitute in any sport as it’s more about the relationship between the sport and the town, although I suspect hockey was picked because it’s such a hard and violent sport (much like Beartown). Everyone has their hopes pinned on the junior team winning but they all have very different reasons for it. Some see it as a business opportunity, some a chance to escape and move up in the world and some just see it as proof that their town can still win at something.
It’s a very insular community. Small, isolated and fiercely proud of who they are. They have their own hierarchy, rules and beliefs all based around hockey. The more you can do for the team, the more power you have and the more you can get away with. The town is pretty much run by the best players and the sponsors but it’s unwise to ignore the hardcore working class fans either who feel the team belongs to them. Incomers, who don’t know the rules or have the same beliefs aren’t welcome. It’s very old fashioned, with only men allowed to play or even like hockey and the women expected to stay at home and support them. Everything is cold and hard and at times the whole story feels very claustrophobic, particularly when you see how everyone can turn on whoever falls out of line.
There aren’t really any main characters in this story but rather it’s told from multiple perspectives all of the time, jumping from one person to the next every page or two or sometimes every few paragraphs. These multiple view points and swift changes between them make it feel very episodic. I will admit I found it a little confusing in the beginning but it is brilliantly done and really gives you a feel for every aspect of the story. You’re very much in each and every moment and with every character and every single thing that happens feels completely real.
As you would expect there are some characters that are more likeable than others but as with all great stories I found my feelings towards them changing throughout as they developed and we found out more about them. A character I felt sorry for in the beginning turned out to be not very nice and one who didn’t really register, I kind of fell in love with by the end.
The story is slow, particularly in the beginning, but it’s captivating. The writing is beautiful and I found myself taking my time just to enjoy it. The author has such a wonderful way of capturing thoughts and beliefs. I always highlight sentences I like or that speak to me in some way as I read but had to stop myself from just highlighting everything it’s soo good.
I will say that I did find it frustrating in places, there are so many hints of what’s to come it began to drive me crazy, but it was literally impossible to put down. I read the majority of it in a day and this was while I was in the midst of a reading slump. I do think there was a little bit of the emotion missing, it didn’t stay in one place long enough, but it is a truly brilliant book.
I do feel like I have to add that there are a few events which may be triggers (I won’t put details here but happy to discuss in comments) but they are all handled with real sensitivity by the author.
Overall, this is definitely a book I’d recommend even if like me you’ve been put off by the idea of a book about hockey.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book. As always all thoughts are my own.