As one of the relatively rare specimens of British Ice Hockey fan, I was immediately taken with the premise of The Scandal – published in the US as Beartown – and hit the request button on Netgalley without hesitating, and I was absolutely delighted to be approved to read this. As much as I expected to enjoy it – it’s getting some rave reviews – I was blown away by this novel, and it’s likely to feature in my top books of 2017.
Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.
For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.
Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. A bright new future is just around the corner.
Until the day 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. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.
With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.
Which side would you be on?
I mentioned in the opening of my review that I am an Ice Hockey fan. It’s considered to be a minority sport in the UK, but I’m a season ticket holder for my local club, and have been watching it for several years now, so (I like to think that) I have a reasonable understanding of the sport. That said, if you’re not a fan of Ice Hockey, don’t let that put you off this novel, as prior knowledge of the game is not essential, and there aren’t many actual games included in the novel. Rather, Backman uses the sport as the glue that binds the community of Beartown together, and the thing that they hope might help revitalise their town, which has seen the number of jobs gradually decreasing, forcing people to relocate or commute to nearby cities for work.
The novel opens with the quote in the above synopsis – that is the entirety of chapter one. I love this opening. It immediately piqued my attention, and I wanted to know who was involved, and why they were taking such drastic action. And, I spent a large part of the novel trying to work out who was involved, and why. It becomes clearer as the novel progresses, although isn’t fully revealed until very near the end, and I had a few contenders in mind at various stages of the novel as to who was likely to be holding a gun to someone’s head.
I loved the setting of Beartown. Backman gives great insight into the community and the families that live there, which, like most places, covers a broad spectrum of people and personalities, and everyone has faced good and bad moments in their life. Backman manages the difficult balancing act of sharing the minutiae of the characters backgrounds without this feeling like an overload of information, and I came out of the novel feeling as though I knew all the residents personally. The Scandal is told from multiple points of view, but they are all portrayed so brilliantly that there is no danger of becoming confused as to who’s who. Some are more likeable than others, but they all have their part to play. There are some real standouts in the novel, however, and I loved Benji and Ana in particular.
I was instantly captivated by The Scandal and the mystery which is introduced so early on, and combined with the setting, the characters and the writing, this is one of my standout novels of the year. And yes, the Ice Hockey helped, but I think it would have worked whatever the town’s obsession was.
The Scandal was published on 10 August by Michael Joseph. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.