Beartown by Fredrik Backman – A Review

I actually read this novel last year, but am updating my review because I’m about to begin an advance reader’s copy of its sequel, Us Against You. Make sure to check back here for it in a few days!

Beartown is definitely a serious departure from both A Man Called Ove (which is one of my favourite novels – I’ll publish my review here shortly, too!) and Britt-Marie Was Here. I read this book on my way home from a trip overseas and finished it with a couple of hours to spare on my flight. Digesting this novel took so much out of me emotionally that I sat next to my husband in silence for the rest of the journey.

This book was beautifully crafted and so incredibly heartbreaking. Backman addresses rape and rape culture with unparalleled sensitivity and grace, and with a tragic realism that will hit home for many – women in particular.

Backman demonstrates the pervasiveness of rape culture as well as the horrible things people do to each other rather than hold themselves and those they care about accountable for their actions. But he also demonstrates the strength, resiliency, and courage that we can still find even in the most unexpected of places.

I can’t wait to read all of Backman’s work.

We begin this novel thinking that it’s about a small town’s love of hockey. Being Canadian, this certainly resonated with me. Despite being born and bred here in the Great White North, I do not have a deep love affair with the sport, but I can understand its appeal. Heck, when watching just about every other team sport (with the exception of maybe Rugby), I’m always struck by how quickly referees will call fouls. Professional soccer players in particular drive me a bit insane with all of their complaining and moaning and fake-falling (and I played competitively as a child and teen, so I do have a certain love for the sport). Ice hockey players, however, can take a beating. While players of most other sports get upset when referees don’t call fouls, hockey players get upset when they do! You don’t have to love hockey to be proud that your country-folk are made of that sort of tough stuff!

But I digress! To reiterate, we begin this novel thinking that it’s about a small town’s love of hockey. But it isn’t. This novel is about people. Beartown has good people and bad people, like any other place, but most of its population falls somewhere in the grey area, as most humans do. This idea in and of itself is most certainly not novel, but Backman has an uncanny knack for creating characters rife with nuance. They are so real that they become nearly tangible to the reader. While I had no desire to root for each character (and it wasn’t Backman’s intent for me to wish to do so either), I could understand (not necessarily condone, of course) how each of them came to make the decisions that they did.

I had been rather afraid to pick up this book after having loved A Man Called Ove so desperately; the fear of disappointment is a powerful thing! But I’m so glad that I did.

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