Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Scandal – Fredrik Backman

Crime Fiction
5*s

Is a book more rewarding if you spent the first section wondering whether or not to put it aside for something that doesn’t revolve around a sport that you have no interest in, only to find yourself completely drawn into the both the story and writing style? Whatever the answer, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year despite the uncertain start.

At the beginning of the book we hear shots but soon the action switches to a game of ice hockey. Now I wasn’t a fan of the straightforward hockey on proper ground being much smaller than my peers, no good at running and it was freezing cold, doing the same on ice only has peril written all over it as far as I’m concerned. But through the game we get to meet all the inhabitants of Beartown a small town in Sweden whose whole identity seems to be wrapped up in the game. Man, woman or child, if you live in Beartown then the fortune of your dwelling place depends on the success of the various teams ordered by age, if a little muddied by aptitude.

Those shots I mentioned kept me wondering as the action switched from the ice to the town and back again as young boys were ready to make their mark against the opponents whilst others failed in their efforts. Beartown Ice Hockey team are about to play in the semi-finals, and they want to win.

This book is full of diverse characters albeit a set that are united by their love of the game, or what it can mean for Beartown, a town that has been a long time in the decline. We see the board members sponsors, the coach, the General Manager, the fathers, mothers and sisters of the players as well as the team themselves. We even know a great deal about the woman who cleans the ice rink, the changing rooms and the offices for the club. Everyone is involved in some way or another. But the focus of the book isn’t about the game, or not directly, it’s about something that happened after a game and the consequences on all involved.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I really wasn’t sure that this was a book for me and yet the writing was at pared down yet eloquent, holding so many truths of life that I wished I had read it when I was younger and still had some of the important thoughts that were shared.

Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanise our enemy…

The writing style alone had me convinced, with phrases and messages carried through from one scene to another – when the book got tough, and it does, the stylistic flair kept the momentum going forward while the reader comes to terms with what has been revealed. There are issues galore and normally when I write that in a review I’m not being complimentary because it can feel as if the author is leaping from bandwagon to bandwagon. That isn’t the case with The Scandal where the issues in the book are tightly linked to the players on a personal level. The author hasn’t offered up platitudes or worst case scenarios, instead the author has a nuanced take and provides what I felt was a balanced path, best of all leaving the reader to come to his or her own opinions.

This is a story of friendship between males and females, yes despite the kernel of the action being a boys ice hockey team, there are some females who are also central to the story. It is also the story of those other major relationships of being a parent, a sibling, or a partner, of being loved and loving others. Most of all this is a tale of how loyalties can be divided and sometimes sitting on the fence isn’t an option. It is in fact a remarkable book that had me in tears more than once.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Penguin UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Scandal or Beartown if you are a US reader. This review is my unbiased thanks to them and to Fredrik Backman for a remarkable story which I’d love to tell you more about, but it really does have to be read and admired with little or no idea what you will find within its pages. I suspect readers will take away different messages. I feel that this is a book that we should see on school book lists and book clubs across the world.

First Published UK: 10 August 2017
Publisher:  Penguin
No. of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

37 thoughts on “The Scandal – Fredrik Backman

  1. It sounds as though this has a great sense of place and culture, Cleo, as much as it does a sense of hockey. And I do like the writing style. Interesting, isn’t it, how a book can turn out to be so appealing, even though it’s about something you don’t think you’ll enjoy.

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  2. Also not much of an ice hockey fan but do yourself a favor and watch the 70’s movie “Slap Shot”. Not only is it a funny but poignant story, you can win bar bets by being able to name the second Paul Newman/Struther Martin movie besides “Cool Hand Luke”.

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  3. I’ve loved all of the previous Backman books. I have this one to read as the publisher sent me a copy (under the alternate title “Beartown”). I’ve not picked it up as soon as I could have as the whole hockey theme didn’t grab me. (just because I’m from Canada doesn’t mean I love hockey LOL) Now, your great review has made me push it up the queue again.

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  4. I’ve only read the Ove book from this author (and have the “grandmother” one on my Kindle), but I’ve been curious about this one. I’m glad you told us about how you were turned off at first by all the hockey, but then were caught up and came to really love the book. I don’t like books with lots of sports, but since this one moves on to many other issues, I have to add it to my list.

    I like what you quoted about hate. So true! It reminds me of a sociology course I took many years ago in which we studied “cognitive dissonance,” which clearly sums up what is happening in that quote.

    Thanks for sharing. Great review!

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  5. Cleo, have you read any of his other books? I almost put down An Old Man called Ove but glad I finished it as I thought it was a gem. My book club would be happy to see this, they have enjoyed all his books now. Great review.

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  6. I also hated hockey at school and my knowledge of ice hockey pretty much begins and ends with the Mighty Ducks movies but I absolutely loved this book. The sport side feels pretty much secondary and as someone who lives in a former manufacturing town where everyone is obsessed with football there was a lot that felt familiar.

    Great review.

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  7. This is very interesting. I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and I’m still not sure what Backman’s style is. I haven’t read A Man Called Ove yet. Your review sounds like a completely different author, so I’m concluding that he is a very diverse writer! I think I would like this one.

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  8. Great review Cleo. I won Beartown in a giveaway and can’t wait to read it. I am glad that you ended up enjoying this book despite the reservations you had initially.

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  9. Ooooh Cleo you’ve sold me on this one! I have to admit I wasn’t sure after hearing it was about ice hockey (not a big sports fan!) but it looks like it’s about a lot more than that! I’ve read a couple of his other books and enjoyed them so I should definitely give this a shot! Fantastic review xx

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  10. I feel the cover calling me! Ice hockey is not my thing but you have me convinced the writing and the characters would be enough to keep me hooked! I love the idea of exploring men/women friendships, too, we usually get couples, but friendships are more uncommon. Fab review!

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