REVIEW: The Scandal, Frederik Backman

Friday, 29 December 2017

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. Which side will you find yourself on?

The Scandal, or Beartown as it is published in the United States, is one of those books that have been everywhere these last few months - seemingly universal rave reviews have been following the book, both before and after its international release dates, and for good reason. The Scandal is very apt in its timing, coinciding with the ‘locker room talk’ of the current President of the United States and the #metoo movement, as it examines rape culture and the toxic masculinity surrounding sport; showing a culture in which sport stars are told that they deserve everything because of their success on the rink.
Unfortunately, because of this, the first third of the book was rather grating (which is the primary reason for The Scandal not receiving a 5*) as Backman explains again and again the large role that ice hockey plays in the town and, as someone who has never personally felt such fervour towards a sport (I mean, outside of looking forward to rugby days primarily for the excuse to drink cider during the day), this quickly became monotonous and boring.
Thankfully, the intensity and examinations of the majority of the book made up for the sport-orientated world-building of its beginning, as it shows how easy it is for the town to dehumanise and villainize the victim of sexual assault and how hard it is for victims to come forward, I mean, jesus christ! The greek chorus of the town, most of who have kidded themselves into thinking that they are good people, reveal their true colours to be well and truly awful and honestly, and the main character is so damn brave coming forward and facing their horrifically misplaced wrath.
The Scandal is so, so, so important, masterful in its handling of the radiating trauma surrounding sexual assault, and one which everyone needs to read in this society where sexual violence (and its minimisation) seems to be becoming more and more commonplace.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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