The Winners by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I hoped to love “The Winners” by Fredrik Backman as much as I love the original “Beartown”. The latter is the one book that I recommend to anyone who has time for just one more book. It was the book I gave my mother as a present for what would be her final birthday. She never got to read it.
I already thought the second book wasn’t as good as the first one but, sadly, this third instalment is the weakest. It started out so well and felt a lot like “Beartown”…
»To you who talk too much and sing too loud and cry too often and love something in life more than you should.«
“The Winners” continues the story of Beartown, its rival Hed and both towns’ inhabitants. Backman takes time to paint a literary picture of life in those parts of the world but also writes very convincingly about the conditio humana in general.
»There’s an immensity of love that bursts from your chest the first time you hear your child cry, every emotion you’ve ever felt is amplified to the point of absurdity, children open floodgates inside us, upward as well as down. You’ve never felt so happy, and never felt so scared. Don’t say “don’t worry” to someone in that position. You can’t love someone like this without worrying about everything, forever.«
We’re back in Beartown two years after the events of the previous book and people and things have moved on from what had happened. Nevertheless, Maya, Benji, Amat, Leo and all the others are around and some new characters like Lev add a new layer to the story.
»Ana thought Maya was stupid, and Maya thought Ana was an idiot, and they became best friends instantly.«
Unhurriedly, Backman explores not only Beartown and its people but also concepts like home, how we fall in love and much more. I took a lot of notes and highlighted generously on almost every page because while Backman rarely presents entirely new ideas, he has a very “organic” and convincing way to express these days in a way that speaks (not only) to me.
It’s not like everything is philosophic, though. Backman isn’t your old-age wizened philosopher preaching to us; he uses hockey to write fluently and easily readable about his topics – and employs a kind and gentle humour to drive his point home…
»They live in the same house but his parents barely see him, he’s fourteen now, meaning that they no longer have a child but a lodger.«
The problem is: However wise you are, however good your ideas are, however well you can tell a story – your readers will be sated at some point. Keep on extending your story past that point and you run a high risk of losing your readers.
This is exactly what happened to me. After, let’s say, 60 chapters (!) full of good ideas, foreshadowing, promises of things to come, Backman oversteps the mark. His endless descriptions on almost 700 pages are just too long. He promises world-shattering drama but actually delivers too little in way too many words.
“The Winners” becomes the elderly guest at your table who tells a charming tale in the beginning, keeps on talking and ultimately overstays his welcome and needs to be shooed kindly out of the door late in the evening.
Backman has become a victim of his own success: “The Winners” would have needed a bold editor, unafraid to suggest liberal “cuts” from the surplus “fat”. There’s a very decent story that many won’t get to know about just because it takes too long to be told.
One minor issue is the “epilogue”: It details what becomes of most of the people, including Kevin from the first novel. “The Winners”, thus, answers questions that should better have remained unanswered – we probably had our own ideas about that already and there’s simply no need to interfere with those.
All in all, this was sadly a tiresome read and I have to say I’m glad it’s over. It probably would have been best if “Beartown” had remained a unique and solitary masterpiece.
Rounded generously up, three out of five stars.
Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam
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The Winners by Fredrik Backman