Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
At the time of writing the review, I had a whole different start to this post about Fredrik Backman's writing and how I did not want this book to end. And then over the weekend, the Euro's started. Like much of the world, I was horrified at the events that unfurled during the Denmark vs Finland game, when a player, Christian Eriksen collapsed and received CPR at the side of the pitch. During that time, his team-mates formed a wall around him so the medical team could work on him with some privacy, before he was quickly taken to hospital. He is now recovering thank God.
Following these events, messages began to appear on social media and the BBC from other countries, teams and individuals all wishing for his recovery. The Danish team bravely decided to resume the match a couple of hours later and on their arrival, they were greeted with hugs from the Finnish team, and with both sets of fans chanting Christian Eriksen's name. The commentators reminding us that the power of sport has the ability to unite in times when it is needed. And that perfectly sums up the message of this powerfully written book.
Us Against You is the follow up to Beartown, which I awarded 5 glorious stars to and which made me sob. The first thing to say is definitely read Beartown first. It is the same characters and the plot of Beartown forms a lot of the basis of Us Against You. I was lucky enough to read this with the 'Beartown Buddies' over on Instagram, a wonderful group. We had already read Beartown together and loved it, so it was fab to read this with them again.
Plot (From the Back Cover)
By the time the last goal is scored, someone in Beartown will be dead. Us Against You is the story of two towns, two teams and what it means to believe in something bigger than yourself. It's about how people come together - sometimes in anger, often in sorrow, but also through love. When we stand together, we can bring a town back to life
Wowsers! Where to start with this one? It is a rare thing in an author to make me care so passionately about a group of characters and the town that they live in, but Backman has achieved this beautifully.
Without a doubt, my favourite character is Benji. Benji is violent, stubborn, and deeply flawed and is the moral, destructive compass of the book. My fellow readers agreed and throughout the book I found myself chanting 'Not Benji, Not Benji, Not Benji' like some Yoga mantra. Benji is the heart of this book and the violence meted out on him is hard to read at times.
But even the other characters are human, flawed and fully rounded - a vicious gossip who will always quietly cook food for anyone who dealing with a bereavement; a taciturn father who will read the Harry Potter stories to his children at night as he learns to live without his wife; a grizzled bar-owner who is the town's mother and a boy with impulse control who just wants to play hockey and is tentatively embarking on his first relationship. The characters are not good or bad, there are no 'black hats or white hats' here. These are deeply human, deeply flawed but all with a core of humanity. They could be one of us, our friends, family or neighbours.
Backman, just as in Beartown writes beautiful, strong women; Ramona, Maya, Ana and Benji's 3 wonderful Sisters. All working to stay alive, survivors. I believed in every single one of them.
Let me talk about 'The Pack' - a group of Beartown Hockey's toughest supporters, violent and yet all brothers in arms, they stood up for Maya and her father, Peter after the events of the previous book. The hate the rival town of Hed and its hockey team and this spills into a wider conflict - a fight for jobs and economic recovery. All stage-managed by puppet-master Richard Theo.
The writing about relationships is beautiful and sensitive. Peter and Kira are struggling and this is all depicted with the metaphor of 2 wine-glasses turning into a single glass. Both craving a moment to sit and just be with each other, but pulled apart by events, and dealing with those on their own.
This is a novel about the power of sport, how sport and rivalry can spill into violence and hatred. But ultimately how it can unite and bring love through a shared love of the sport. I defy you not to have a tear in your eye when one team and its supporters, truly broken are uplifted and supported by their greatest rivals.
Throughout there is a sense of dread with this novel. I found myself waiting for a punch that I knew was coming. I was truly reading with a heavy load on my back and there was relief in the release. It's hard, yet beautiful.
I'm awarding this book 4.75 stars. It nearly was another 5 Star read, but at the start I felt that the first few chapters needed to settle into itself. It is a measure of how good the author is, that I have come to expect only perfection. Also, there was relatively little of another of my favourite characters Amat, and his dignified mother, who I adored in this previous book, but this is really nit-picking now.
The rest of the novel is wonderful, awful, emotional and terrifying all at the same time. I loved this and it was an excellent and suitable follow-up to Beartown. I have loved reading this with my Beartown Buddies. And woebetide if Backman ever gets rid of our sweet Benji, as I do feel we will into 'The Pack' to hunt him down!