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A novel of small town SWEDEN

10th January 2022

Beartown by Fredrik Backman, a novel of small town Sweden.

A novel of small town SWEDEN

The reader knows right from the outset that something will happen that will upset the relative harmony of this small town, set deep in a Swedish forest. It is the story of community and what holds people together and how easily the set-up can be torn apart, especially if a heinous event happens, perpetrated by one of their own.

Much of the story is set around the world of ice hockey, something that is becoming increasingly important to the people who live in Beartown. It is the pulsing heart that binds the inhabitants: as their junior team gathers more accolades, so the worth of their achievements can be measured in kudos, fame and money.

The opening third is devoted to the characters. There are quite a few who parade across the pages and there is a lot of time spent on ice hockey moves – the pucks, group dynamics and games. It is a slow burning start that, I have to be honest, nearly put me off – it can feel quite laboured as it  moves through the gears. You do, of course, know something is coming down the line which works as a good hook;  gradually, the characters blossom into their personas and whatever the ‘event’ may be feels like a tantalising spectre that could happen at any minute. The consequences subsequently fan out across the town and the people, whom we have gradually got to know. They now have to work out where their lines are drawn and how they will pick up the pieces. The variety of polarised responses feels familiar, as the affiliations are formed, and anger and dissonance permeate the group dynamics.

The writing is certainly engaging, which we know from A Man Called Ove. The author is a gifted storyteller. In this story he has taken a universal theme, which has been the subject of literature over the centuries and which could be played out across any community, anywhere in the world. He looks at the individual drives, the team ethos and the ties that hold a community together – and at the events and personalities that can just as easily upend the house of cards.

The setting, with the transitional seasons, is very much part of this story. The brooding backdrop functions to heighten the pathos.

It is in many ways a thought provoking read, a carefully told story that will linger. For me I could objectively appreciate the storyline but ultimately it wasn’t a novel that totally hooked me in. It didn’t captivate me, unlike other reviewers who have found it mesmerising and challenging in its themes.

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