Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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beartown

Published: 2016

I was certainly not expecting this book to be as good as it was! I normally don’t like to get too swept up in current reading trends but this one was pleasantly surprising.

Plot wise, not much happens, in fact I can probably summarise it as a hockey team going to play the final of their league and being desperate to win. What’s more appealing about this book is the characters that we are introduced to, and character development they experience throughout the book. We are introduced to over 10 main or supporting characters and the author dips from one character to the next, each time revealing something new we didn’t know about their personality or past. I think by doing this it enables him to explore such a wide range of power themes and societal issues, from sexual assault, community, diversity, betrayal, sport, loss, injustice, loyalty, love, and family just to name a few.

The characters are all varying ages, personalities and stages of life which makes this extra interesting and applicable to a wide audience, from young adults, to teenagers to older adults. Even though it’s a third person narration, you still feel like you get to the bottom of their feelings and biggest fears. Like with Kira for example:

“Not a second has passed since she had children without her feelings like a bad mother For everything. For not understanding, for being impatient, for not knowing everything, for not making better packed lunches, for still wanting more out of like than just being a mother. She hears other women in Beartown sigh behind her back: ‘Yes, but she has a full-time job, you know. Can you imagine?’ No matter how much you try to let works like that run off you, a few of them stick.” (75)

You really get to the core of the characters and then see them behave and take different actions in general settings is fascinating, for you better understand why they make the choices their do and demonstrates how single actions can mark and affect each of the characters differently. Likewise, it highlights the fact that even the characters that seem the most most well-off and successful have their demons and issues. For example, the General Manager of the team, who played in the NHL and achieved some level of success still feels vulnerable and inadequate as a man and father:

“Peter stands next to him shivering, full of the sense of inadequacy that only afflicts a man of a certain generation when he watches another man from the same generation repair his wife’s car. Hog straightens up and spares Peter any technical jargon.” (121)

Then there is the fact that author chooses to tackle a tremendous heavy topic of sexual assault. I don’t want to reveal and spoil too much, but for any author to tackle that topic and explore it from different perspectives of a the victim, the accuser and the surrounding community has made this book a fascinating, albeit a somber read. I felt it particularly poignant and relevant as I was reading this book just when Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh were going through the senate hearing.

I can’t say that these themes are particularly unique to this author, but he manages to engross us into the issues in a way other authors have not done – the writing style is completely captivating. You can hear the narrators voice throughout the book, coming out of the pages and says what he wants to say without shielding behind the characters. For example:

“Sooner or later, almost every discussion about the way people behave towards one another ends up becoming an argument about ‘human nature’. That’s never been an easy thing for biology teachers to explain: on the one hand, our entire species survived because we stuck together and cooperated, but on the other hand we developed because the strongest individuals always thrived at the expense of the weak. So we always end up arguing about where the boundaries should be drawn.” (334)

These little moments when the author speaks to you directly are always linked to the novel’s story perfectly, it feels like the novel is there to backup his theories on human nature and community. It’s absolutely fascinating! If you can’t tell already I am well pleased with this book and I could not put it down once I started reading it.

When I explained this novel to the flight stewardess on my way home she said it sounded  very similar to Friday Night Lights (which I have never read so can’t say for sure!) but from reading more about Friday Night Lights, although some of the main themes overlap the journey and writing style is very different – much more sombre in Beartown.

Q: Have you ever read a book that you really enjoyed, but likewise made you sad/heartbroken after reading it?

 

 

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