Swedish writers with something to say, do it with such clarity they grab your heart

“Books are a uniquely

portable magic”

Stephen King


The Scandal by Fredrik Backman ((Penguin/Michael Joseph)

Scandal cover

How can you resist a book that starts with the following sentence:

Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

Some may be familiar with the writer, Frederik Backman because of his most prominent book thus far, A Man Called Ove , an intriguing look at a man who could not relate to the rest of the world and thus turned most away from him.

This is no different. Beartown is a small town in a large Swedish forest. It is in danger of losing any economic future it might have but there’s one shard of light – a tiny one – but it’s there.

The town, 99.9 percent of it anyway, are fanatical about their ice hockey team. We’re not talking the big leagues, it’s all about the stage that will take them there if they do well. So it’s small town, small odds, and small team. But this seems to be their only hope of not shrinking to a point of no return.

And they’re all set to go with the fighting spirit and the chance of the boys pulling it through. But then bad things happen to good people and good people aren’t always willing to do the right thing.

That’s how much of this story plays out as Backman peels and dissects this town like an onion, one nick at a time. It’s fascinating as he tells the story of generations in a town where everyone is linked to their sporting success in some way whether it is the local bar owner or the mother who cleans the ice rink.

The author has stacked the odds so that everyone seems implicated in a certain act that throws their every decision into question. Are your morals going to hold or are you going to bend them a little with the knowledge that individuals might be wronged but it would be for the greater good?

Haven’t we all wondered about certain people – on a small or larger scale – and how they live with their conscience? They must bend the truth a little to do what they do and get away with it – or so they believe.

All of these issues come into play in this story which affects everyone in the town on some scale.

Because of all of the issues involved, the fact that it is driven by sport, which impacts communities whether in a large city or small town. The author has cleverly reached far and wide to draw on a reading public.

In our family, everyone is reading or has read the book and loved it. It’s that kind of tale. It’s something that people can talk about, discuss and bring their opinions to bear.

What Backman does exceptionally well, is hold your attention. Even if translated, it is tightly written but more than that, it is the way the story is told. Many different characters are brought into the game, to show what specific people do under specific circumstances. There’s mother of the wronged child for example or the father who has both his daughter and the sports team to consider.

It reminded me of the storytelling abilities of Lionel Shriver who takes a contemporary dilemma and pulls it apart by telling a specific tale.

It’s exactly what Backman does here. Whether in a snow covered Swedish town, or a Cape south coast village, the story that is told can unfold similarly which is why it is so enthralling.

If you want a good read that can be passed around the family with good results all round, this is it.