Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication date: 3rd May 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
“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?”
I picked up Beartown on a day where I wanted to read something uplifting from a change to the usual crime. Most readers know Fredrik Backman through his past inspirational and lively stories so I was expecting Beartown to follow a similar story line and structure however I soon learnt that the spirit and atmosphere in this book is different to his usual.
“Anything that grows closely enough to what it loves will eventually share the same roots. We can talk about loss, we can treat it and give it time, but biology still forces us to live according to certain rules: plants that are split down the middle don’t heal, they die.”
An important element that Beartown shares with past books written by Backman is the extraordinary and almost surreal feeling it inflicts on its readers. As I read chapter after chapter I was immediately transported to the setting and felt like a spectator in an intimate scene. There is a very strong sense of community in the small and tight knit town which is supported by its huge following of hockey, particularly in the high school teams. At a first glance Beartown may appear to be a book about a hockey match and a dreadful event that follows, but it quickly becomes clear that hockey lies at the surface of what this book represents as human nature and relationships are at the core of its foundations.
“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.”
Each character in Beartown is unique and fascinating and Backman manages to successfully create a bond between the reader and the characters, just as in his previous books. This produced a very powerful and emotional reading experience and I truly enjoyed getting to know all characters despite their flaws, which is unusual considering that there are so many characters in this book who are all portrayed as damaged, fighting their enemies and conquering their fears.
“If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway.
All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway.
What you create, others can destroy. Create anyway.”
Although I really enjoyed delving into each character’s mind, I had some issues with the pace at the beginning of the book. I was almost ready to give it up as it seemed like a very unnecessarily long winded introduction to the hockey team and the match, but I am so glad that I decided to continue until the end. A tragedy occurs at the halfway mark and it is at this turning point where the Backman’s truly brilliant storytelling comes to life as he raises all the important questions that make us see each character in a different light .
“One of all the terrible effects of grief is that we interpret its absence as egotism. It’s impossible to explain what you have to do in order to carry on after a funeral, how to put the pieces of a family back together again, how to live with the jagged edges. So what do you end up asking for? You ask for a good day. One single good day. A few hours of amnesia”
Despite the slow beginning and uneven pace, I still consider Beartown a successful publication which highlights all of Fredrik Backman’s qualities and skills as a writer. The community feel is strong throughout the entire novel despite the hardships that the people of Beartown face and this factor alone is enough to encourage me to recommend this book to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Beartown is a unique and exceptional book that must be celebrated for the masterpiece it is.