Our Hiding Place From the World
Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger, columnist and author. He is the New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, and bestsellers My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises and Britt-Marie Was Here, as well as a novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. His books are published in more than thirty five countries and he has sold over eight million copies. His latest novel, The Scandal — published as Beartown in the US — is being adapted for TV by the team behind The Bridge. He lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Fredrik introduces The Scandal and explains why it is - and isn't - about sport, and why even sport is never really just about sport.
My name is Fredrik Backman and I write things. Sometimes these things are books. Most recently it was a book about the people who live in a small snow-covered town deep in the forest. A community that’s taken its fair share of economic punches in the wake of the financial crisis and unemployment wave of the last couple of years. The book is called The Scandal in the UK, but the town itself is called Beartown. Some people might say that there aren’t many things to get excited about in this small town, but those are the people who have never loved a sport. Because in Beartown there is an ice hockey team, one that was great once and will be so again. The people living there hope that when the team is victorious again, the rest of the town’s fortunes will follow.
The Scandal is a story about sport. And it’s not at all a story about sport. Or. . . maybe it is? I mean . . . yes . . . and no. It’s about a town with an ice hockey team, so one of the most common questions I get regarding the novel is ‘do I have to like ice hockey to enjoy this book?’ And well . . . I hope not. Because it’s not a story about sport. Because not even sport is about sport. It’s always about the people. All the stories that I really like are about people and to me sport is, most of all, about people’s imaginations. People can’t love sport without having an imagination, because deep down we all know that the game is made up. It’s not real. It doesn’t really matter. We pretend that it does, because people need to pretend once in a while. It’s not just an urge, it’s a need. We need stories and fantasies and pretend universes that are logical and make sense when reality is weird and horrifying and incomprehensible. Sport is a safe place for a lot of us, because no matter what we go through in life we have this one thing we can rely on that is basically the same as it’s always been. It’s comforting. It’s home. It makes sense. It’s got rules and consequences, and it’s deeply unfair but . . . fair. And it’s always dramatic, everything is always on the line, it forces us to live in the moment and how many chances like that do we get in an average week at work? Where do we get to scream and cry and feel everything we keep bottled up? We go from euphoria to heartbreak in a second and at the end of the game there’s always another game. Another season. Something to look forward to. To live for. To breathe in. In the words of my favourite sports journalist Carlo Ancelotti ‘[football] is the most important unimportant thing in the world.’
I think that’s why we defend our favourite sports, teams and players so viciously. It’s our hiding place from the world. If you try to change it, we’re going to fight back. It’s a natural instinct.
And that’s what this story is about. What happens when the best player of the town’s beloved hockey team commits a horrific crime? What will we allow him, if he is important to us? Where do we draw the line between sport and reality? When do we let one impact the other? And when a boy’s word stands against the girl’s word, and we know that if the girl is a liar everything in our lives can just go on as normal, but if the boy is a liar everything changes . . . then . . . will we still know the difference between right and wrong?
When the book was first published, several people commented that it was ‘very different’ from my earlier novels. I don’t know if it is. A journalist claimed that it was ‘much less whimsical, with a more serious storyline and a more deliberate prose’ I’m not entirely sure what that means, but the journalist asked me if I had done all that ‘on purpose.’ I hadn’t. Very few things I do are on purpose. Because I don’t view myself as an author, I just try to be a storyteller. In order to tell a story I simply try to find the kind of language that will carry the story in the best possible way. Sometimes it might get more serious, if the story demands it but I don’t know if it makes this book different. I think the reader has to be the judge of that, but the journalist in question also asked me to ‘give a brief summary of the book’s major theme.’ And the only thing I could answer was ‘community.’ It’s about community. Because there’s a line in the story that reads: ‘What is a community? It’s the sum of our choices. And I feel like it’s the most important line in the whole book.
The Scandal is a story about a crime. It’s about hatred. It’s about courage. It’s about friendship and loyalty and how the forces of good and evil can be at work in the same place at the same time within the same people. But most of all, it’s a story about making choices and taking a stand.
It’s all about sport.
And not at all about sport.
It always and never is.
* Read an interview with Fredrik about his earlier novel, Britt-Marie Was Here.