Beartown is a small town in a large Swedish forest.
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. Change is in the air and 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.
No one can stand by or stay silent. You're on one side or another.
'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 dehumanize our enemy.'
The enclosed, limited, cold and bleak world of this small town in Sweden, Beartown, is really successfully conveyed by Backman, I think the reader gets a full sense of the claustrophobia and limitations that many of the characters experience, the isolation in this rural place surrounded by forest. This is the backdrop against which the story builds. There seems little to celebrate or shout about there, and what matters to the majority of the people there is ice-hockey and the possibility of renewed success of their team would bring about such a lift in spirits, as it did in the past. That's why, when something absolutely terrible happens, so many of the inhabitants are thrown into a moral conflict and the way they emerge from it will show their true colours.
It's a difficult read at times, with the criminal act of rape that is the turning point of the story being very upsetting and shocking. But I found it a very convincing portrayal of a community and of so many different characters, young, middle-aged and older, all drawn so vividly and roundly, all with their own problems, anxieties and passions. The narration jumps around a fair bit to show different reactions and points of view to the unfolding events, and I really liked the variety of characters we come to know. I admit to knowing little about ice-hockey before reading, and although it is intrinsic to the life of the town and the backdrop of the plot, it doesn't matter if it doesn't overly interest you as it is the characters - their actions and motivations, thoughts and secrets - and the themes - friendship, loyalty, honesty, being a parent, bereavement - that really stand out in this tale.
These characters in The Scandal felt so alive to me as I read, and I kept thinking about some of them whilst I wasn't reading, as well as after I had finished the book. It was certainly a thought-provoking read, and caused a bit of a 'book hangover' for me afterwards, as it didn't feel like anything else was going to capture my thoughts as this had. I borrowed this book from the library so must get a keeper copy one day.
I was excited to see that there is another novel coming out from the author with the same setting, Us Against You, (Beartown Two) - the title of The Scandal in some versions is Beartown, a direct translation of the original Swedish title I believe.