Skating on thin ice in Beartown

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

beartown

This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write… Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic but NO JOKE I had trouble with this one and I’m so frickin nervous about sharing my thoughts guys. Part of this comes down to the fact that I had a lot of mixed feelings about the book and still felt the desire to rate it:

4/5 bananas

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I know that a lot of what follows will be confusing and I guarantee some people will walk away dissatisfied with my position here- either because they feel I shouldn’t voice my opinion in response to this book or because they won’t consider me strident enough in my rating. It’s really a lose lose situation for me, I must say, but I don’t think pre-emptive irritation is something I should take out on what was in fact a very well written book.

Because I was impressed by a lot of it. Kudos to the author, he’s very skilled and I was immediately blown away by the writing. There were so many layers to the story and characters that I found myself easily wrapped up in it. I am always admiring of books that can transport me so fully to a place you would never discover on your own- and Beartown felt a million miles away and yet so close to home. The characters felt beautiful and authentic. I could sense the serious issues lurking under the ice, ready to crack at any moment and I appreciated the chills that tension gave me. It was a little on the slow side and it took a while to get to the “I really can’t put this down” part, but that was okay, I could see this getting 4.5-5 bananas from me.

And then the scandal hit, at around 50% of the way in, and I started to have problems. I had some, shall we say, philosophical differences with the questions it raised and the answers it appeared to direct the reader towards. It began to feel borderline propagandistic, with lines from actual political campaigns plastered into the plot in a very noticeable way. But before we get into what that was, I’m going to politely ask the easily offended to *look away*, or just people who don’t want SPOILERS, and dubbing this section from here on out “You Asked For It”- where I explain, as comprehensively as I am able, my issues with said political elements. After all, if you’re entering the political arena… well then you can expect some differing opinions.

You Asked For It AKA The Spoiler Section

What I dislike most about this book is what it’s forcing me to do now. I’ve specifically stated before that I *do not* want this blog to turn political. Unfortunately, art is increasingly entering that sphere and I find myself in the position where I have no choice but to voice my opinion. So here we go. I very much support the concept of due process and don’t appreciate attempts to subvert it. As sympathetic as you can be to individuals who have to go through this, the rule of “innocent until proven guilty” must prevail, even with regards to rape cases (as in this book), otherwise there will only be a perversion of justice. In this book, however, the fact that the perpetrator is treated as innocent and the crime investigated is shown to be an injustice. The messaging being, perhaps innocent until proven guilty is not such a good idea…

For that reason, this book skirted verrry close to a moral line for me. Ultimately, the police questionings, supposed to be viewed as cruel, switched on the purely logical side of my brain instead. Let me be frank: you need to interrogate both the alleged perpetrator and victim in order to establish whether a crime took place. I don’t see “they’re just doing their job” as callous in this context, as the book seemed to imply, because it is exactly right that the legal system relies on evidence-based conclusions. There is no way to circumvent that without becoming unjust yourself. Lines like “that’s not the sort of thing you lie about” are unhelpful in uncovering the truth and this book did not succeed in changing my mind. No doubt the emotive circumstances of the book will be effective for the “listen and believe” camp. Yet I cannot say I found this book personally convincing. Nor was it educational. With that in mind, I can only think that this book will be useful in bolstering some casual confirmation bias for people in both camps.

Ugh, powder keg of opinions coming my way I presume. Please do try to be civil in the comments.

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61 thoughts on “Skating on thin ice in Beartown

  1. The Cozy Pages says:

    I think you explained yourself very well. And as a reviewer you shouldn’t have to sugar coat your opinions for other readers. Readers can choose to agree with you or respectfully disagree.
    Now, I’ve got an umbrella if you need to borrow one….

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    Oh, yeah, I can see how this book might border on the controversial for a lot of people because there IS a very active debate about the “innocent until proven guilty” rule for rape cases–because a lot of time there is very little evidence in these cases besides “Person A says x happened and Person B says y happened.” Definitely tough, and I’m not sure I have the answers to make justice prevail here. Interesting that the book takes this on, though I think I might not 100% agree with the answers it comes up with either.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. raistlin0903 says:

    Haha../well no worries. As I stated before I have absolutely zero interest in politics, but I do enjoy reading reviews that are honest and real. And yours certainly was. I think people will appreciate the fact that you are voicing your own opinion and point out the issues that you had with this book. People will agree and probably disagree as well. But in the end, it comes down to the fact that you are allowed to voice your oen opinion. That’s not something to be feared: it’s something to be embraced. Great post! 😀😀

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    I almost feel like given everything that’s going on it’s hard to avoid politics in books, even though they may be written in a way that doesn’t seem like politics (hopefully that makes as much sense to you as it does in my mind). I really enjoyed reading your review and I think your opinions on the problematic aspect were well written and explained as well (I won’t offer my own opinions because I haven’t read this one myself).
    For the most part (and based on the beginning of your review for sure) this seems like a good book with great characters. 🙂
    Great review as well. 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. MichaelK says:

    Tricky act reviewing such a book but you’ve done it beautifully in my opinion. I would probably not be so kind in my rating as I have a distinct dislike for books trying to force issues like that. It’s OK to raise questions but nudging the reader is such a way is unacceptable. Needless to say that I share your views on the subject but that’s not the place to go political.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you very much. Yeah I understand that a lot of people would have lowered the rating more, and I respect that. I did have trouble with that because the author is very skilled. And I do agree with you- I’m really not into this kind of thing either and wasn’t the place for it. Thank you so much for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Goreti says:

    I really enjoyed how you were open about how you felt dealing with a controversial topic. It was a great review and it did make me curious to read the book for myself and see which conclusions I might reach.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Andrea says:

    Woah, this sounds like it definitely packs a punch… Don’t worry about expressing your honest thoughts! Heck, as reviewers, we should be able to do that without getting worried about the backlash, right? I don’t know what I think about this book, honestly… I don’t even know if I should add it to the TBR or not. Okay, I guess further research is necessary in order to find out!! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. daleydowning says:

    I think you were right to include a spoiler section in this case, because this book has content that a lot of people won’t want to read – either for the politics or the scandal – and saving us time and frustration is important. Also, I think it’s extremely important to keep the lines of discussion OPEN when it comes to matters like this – there is so much liberal bias in some news outlets, etc., and while I firmly believe they’re allowed to have their own opinions, when other mindsets are shut down or dismissed, that’s when democracy itself begins to fail. So let’s totally exercise our right to free speech, and speak up whether we agree with something “controversial” or not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you! Yes, that’s the thing- while I never like to totally put people off books, I also know I wouldn’t have picked this up if I’d known what it was going to be about. Yes I very much see that too. Honestly, the fact that “innocent until proven guilty” is suddenly controversial makes me want to crack my head against the wall- but I’m also not oblivious to how extreme ideologues react to differing opinions. Frankly, I know I’ve been bordering on apologetic here, but I’m getting a bit tired of being lambasted for my political views, just in general.

      Like

  9. deborahkehoe says:

    I haven’t read this book because of the topic of rape, however, I think you did a great job of expressing your opinion without taking away from what the author was trying to accomplish. Even if it goes against everything you believe in. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nel says:

    You know I’ve touched this on this topic before and you should never be blasted for your opinion when it comes to reviews. We all interpret books we read differently and it’s rude to tell a person they didn’t understand the book or it’s not for them when they read a book and share their different thoughts. I think you did a good job and you did warn everyone so I’d a person continued to read on past that point then they have no excuse if they get upset. As for your viewpoints on the specific aspects of the story, I agree with it all and can see how it goes that line.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Carrie says:

    I hate the idea you’d be nervous over sharing your opinion which says a lot about how some people out there behave when they disagree with others. Everyone deserves their opinions and that is all reviews are, read them and move on or have a tasteful discussion but no one should be nervous to speak out. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lisa @abookcalls says:

    Really good review. It’s pretty much impossible to not let your blog get political may it be social injustice or environmental impact. Books mirror our society and however loosely this is, politics are always included. If you support lgbt+ or diverse reads it’s already a political statement. I am actually working on a blogpost about that…really difficult topic…😅

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you so much. I do see that to be the case with a lot of blogs- and it really is fair enough if people want to take their blogs in that direction. That said, I have no desire to do so- on a personal level I’ve always read diverse books, but I won’t make my personal taste political. However if a book makes a political statement, I feel pushed into a corner. Anyway, I’d really be interested in reading your piece- it’s certainly a difficult topic 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Norrie says:

    i agree with the second, spoilery half. Some people do lie about it and it need to be investigated. In this book however, to me it seemed the police also already decided what must have happened and they treated the girl poorly.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sophie @ Blame Chocolate says:

    Hmm interesting review! I have to say I agree with you in general, and especially finding the whole “one wouldn’t lie about something like that” a ridiculous assumption. Tons of women lie about rape – and they are the reason the real victims are not taken seriously sometimes. That is unjust. The wanting to get to the bottom of things is not. Unless some sort of corruption took place in the legal system (and that is a very common occurrence) then standard procedure is standard procedure. And yes, sometimes mistakes are made. And sometimes criminals walk free. And yes, it’s a brutal and cruel method, to ask the victim to relive a nightmare and explain things but unfortunately there’s no other way to help them.
    I think you are right to voice your opinion, whether political or otherwise, as that is what makes intelligent dialogue worthwhile. There’s nothing you can do about those who won’t accept it but at least you’ll be true to yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you!! Yeah it is a ridiculous assumption, because it is not the same burden of proof we apply to other crimes. We do not (and rightly so) just take people’s word on other cases either. I absolutely agree with you- wanting to determine the truth of something is not an injustice. And yes, that is obviously a different matter. If the book had been about misplacing evidence for instance, which has been known to happen, or a judge being bribed etc, then I would have had a very different perspective. But this felt more like it was critiquing the standard procedure and I didn’t like that. Yes, and sometimes despite their best efforts, police cannot provide the evidence they need to. That’s not for want of trying though. I think that’s a good point- but it’s for reasons like that I believe in things like Victim Support Officer’s, who can be very helpful- and I would think that’s something which ought to be employed more, rather than blaming the fact that questions must be asked. Hope that all made sense.
      Thank you very much for saying that!

      Like

  15. Kat Impossible says:

    I haven’t read the book yet (although it is on my wishlist), so I can’t say anything about how they dealt with the scandal from my POV, but I think you phrased your opinion very well and should not hesitate to do so in the future again.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    I LOVE this author and I don’t mind saying it… I’ve read two of his books and thought reading this one would be the case as well. I have to say I agree due process is in place for a reason and both sides of the line can lie… even if first to themselves and then to everyone else thinking it’s the truth. Since I haven’t read this I can’t weigh in on what happened but this is certainly a problem and definitely a political message. I agree there are a LOT of political messages floating around… the controversy seems to come in when people think it’s something everyone needs to get on board with or not (I.e. there is no controversy if the message is one needing boarding so everyone LOVES it). In this case a not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      That’s fair enough- I really appreciated his writing style and have since read another of his books and liked it more! (and didn’t have problems with it). Yes for sure- that’s a good point. And yeah I really think that’s the case as well. Ah yes- I think you’re really right. I mean, there are certainly lots of books with messages, but it makes a difference if it’s something everyone can get on board with (I defy anyone to find fault with, say, Wonder for its messaging)

      Like

  17. lucindablogs says:

    I haven’t finished reading Beartown (good to see you’re as behind on your Netgalley reviews as I am!) but I’ve read past the rape bit so I understand some of your points. I can’t really comment on how much a political agenda was pushed throughout the trial because a) I haven’t got to that bit and b) so far most of the underlying commentary about privilege has related to money and status in the character’s day to day lives (not specifically in relation to the rape).

    I suspect I might have some different feelings to you regarding how the characters were treated, but without anything to back me up I can’t really comment. From what I’ve read so far though, I think the author is trying to portray a wider point about all the insidious ways in which a system based upon power and privilege is set up to fail those without it and to benefit those that do.

    I will say that I thought you voiced your opinions very well and I largely agreed with what you said. However, I do think there’s always scope for improvement when it comes to the police investigation process. Obviously the investigation undertaken will often need to be intrusive but there are ways of making it easier on everyone involved without affecting the impartiality and amount/quality of evidence collected. For example, crimes like “upskirting” (taking a photo up someone’s skirt without their permission) needs legislative changes to allow the police to do more. There are estimates that around 80% of rape and sexual assaults aren’t reported so clearly women (and men) need to feel encouraged that their complaints will be taken seriously. Issues such as the sexual history of a complainant should be utterly irrelevant and I can’t believe that this tactic is still used by defensive counsels to attempt to discredit the witness. There also needs to be clearer policies and procedures for dealing with allegations, especially in workplaces and public organisations.

    I would just like to add that I read in the comments above that “tons of women lie about rape” – that’s just not true. In the few cases where women do lie, this tends to be hugely over reported so it can skew people’s perceptions. In fact, tons of women (and men) who are raped don’t report it. That’s what needs to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Hehe yes, I barely get any and yet I *still* manage to be behind 😉

      Fair enough, I don’t want to spoil anything- but the problem I had was to do with the way the whole legal procedure is portrayed. Just want to be clear- I’m not talking in any way about the societal side of the book (I stupidly only mentioned that in a comment and not the review). I think to say that to make the claim of “power” and “privilege” would mix the way police handled questioning with the way the town’s people react. The book certainly blended those two things- but I’m afraid they’re not the same issue. One is about how we treat each other and is a question of morality; the other is whether there is systematic corruption (of which there is no evidence in the book).

      I certainly think that in terms of collecting evidence there have been gross miscarriages of justice (in the past and presently) so I largely agree with you there. However, in terms of the book, the victim did go to lengths to destroy the evidence (not judging, obviously a lot of people in that situation would do the same) and this was then used as proof of police cruelty in the book- when in reality it’s hard to convict someone if evidence has been destroyed. That’s not to say that a crime didn’t take place or that someone is lying- but the only solution here is to encourage people to come forward *as soon as possible* after the crime took place (definitely agree with you that not enough men and women come forward, and though I wouldn’t say there aren’t serious cases of police negligence, I would think if we actually want more reports to get filed we ought to be at least wary of saying “police don’t take it seriously”)

      When it comes to the question of how the complainant/victim is treated, the reality is defence lawyers don’t ask pleasant questions (just as prosecution lawyers question the defendant), because it is there job to provide reasonable doubt (this is not specific to rape cases). In terms of what you can do for the victim in these instances is to have a support officer (I forget the name for it) to help explain the likelihood of tough and unpleasant questions throughout the process. It is our job to make the victim stronger to face such questions and make it clear what questions they do not have to answer (ie regarding sexual history), not to prevent the hard/unpleasant/frankly stupid questions being asked.

      Well, while I won’t speak for someone else’s choice of words (I agree that it’s not common), I do have an objection to the “people don’t lie about it” perspective- because that’s not how any crime should be investigated. When it comes to prosecuting a crime you cannot simply take someone at their word. I think the discussion gets derailed at the point when people think the legal system is about belief- it has a lot more to do with the burden of proof. Again you are right in saying that victims need to be encouraged to come forward, and I’m not saying the system is perfect- but there are other factors in terms of how likely it is to go to trial or be convicted.

      I hope all that makes sense and you don’t mind me putting forward my thoughts on this. And thanks very much for your very candid comment- I really appreciated it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • lucindablogs says:

        Oooh, this is a lot to get into!

        I’m a bit wary of commenting on the portrayal of these issues in the book (I’m only 60% of the way through) but on a wider note I think there does seem to be a link between power, privilege and justice. Look at someone like Harvey Weinstein who still hasn’t been charged with anything despite a multitude of women coming forwards. The same for Woody Allen and lots of other powerful men. Imagine if you were a lowly extra or runner on a film and you were sexually assaulted by one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, with a huge legal team and an endless supply of cash. Would you even bother to complain?

        Look at the case of Brock Turner, where the sentencing for a sexual assault was reduced to six months (he served three – the charges carried a maximum sentence of 14 years) because he was young, showed remorse, had no previous convictions and a prison sentence would have a severe impact on his life (he was a star athlete). Why was Brock’s future career taken into account when he was found guilty of such serious crimes?

        In terms of the police not taking things seriously, I think the issue is largely one of nuance, semantics and a legacy of “domestic disputes” not being investigated. I read yesterday that a quarter of all sexual offences (including rape) reported to the police aren’t even recorded as crimes. I’m not saying that the police are biased (although there have been incidents such as “rape banter” between the official Merseyside Police twitter account and members of the public) but I think there needs to be more training on how to categorise crime and the level of seriousness that is attributed to each complaint. I used to work in the police force and I honestly worked with some brilliant, compassionate officers but there seems to be procedural issues which hamper their attempts to correctly investigate a potential crime.

        I totally understand your point that it’s very hard to prosecute someone without proof and in a situation of he said/she said it will often fall down to who has the best legal team – and that’s where power and privilege can allow perpetrators to walk free. Because rape and sexual assault is literally an act of power (not sex) it is often the case that the accused is in a more powerful position, with more cash and a better lawyers increasing their chances of not being acquitted. I don’t know what the answer is to that, but I don’t think it’s fair and it’s dangerous to society if such men (and women) are allowed to walk free.

        I understand your point about Witness Protection Officers (that’s what they used to be called – and I totally agree that they’re a brilliant resource to encourage victims to go through with a trial) but I still think that there has to be some boundaries when asking questions of the witness – not only for their mental health but also for the impact on the jury. The British Attitudes Survey showed that over one third of the British public (obviously juries are made up of the general public) thought that victims of sexual assault bear partial responsibility if they were flirting heavily beforehand, and more than a quarter thought they are partially responsible if they’re drunk. Questions about what a victim was wearing, their sexual history etc. can only compound these views and lead to an unfair trial.

        I don’t think that people don’t lie about rape and I do agree in the principal of being innocent until proven guilty but I think that everyone should act impartially until all of the evidence has been gathered. What I don’t want to see is a police officer acting with unconscious bias during the investigation – not recording the incident because of inadequate training, asking questions that have nothing to do with the assault because that’s standard procedure etc. Not only will that impede the investigation, it also discourages others from coming forwards.

        Not at all – I enjoy our debates!

        Liked by 1 person

        • theorangutanlibrarian says:

          Hehe yeah it is 😉

          I think, again, we ought to be careful of conflating the issue of societal/cultural issues and a police investigation.

          Like I said, I’m not arguing that there aren’t serious miscarriages of justice- I’m just disagreeing with the “why”. I could compare the Brock Turner case to lots of others- including the striking similarity to the lenient sentencing of Lavinia Woodward in the UK (a domestic violence case)- corruption charges have been alleged in both cases (I believe both judges are under investigation). I think most people want not only stricter sentencing for rapists, but also these rules to be enforced by judges.

          And again, I certainly see that there is serious negligence involved- however it’s just a matter of why they’re happening and why crimes aren’t being investigated. I hate to bring it up, but the Rotherham case is really relevant in this regard- both for why the rapists weren’t investigated and why the vulnerable people were not listened to.

          I don’t think it has to do with “power” and “privilege”- more to do with the fact that it doesn’t matter who is making the allegation, there has to be more than someone’s accusation to make an allegation stick- regardless of the crime. One person’s word alone cannot be proof that a crime took place. Such an argument would actually push towards a far more unjust system (and frankly opens the door to kangaroo courts).

          Again, I think that comes down to the fact that you really can’t prevent the defence asking questions, no matter how unpleasant they may seem, if you want a fair trial- having a persuasive defence lawyer is not an injustice- even Anders Brevik was given one (mitigating circumstances are used in all sorts of cases and can often sound ridiculous). We have a high burden of proof and the prosecution are not meeting that.

          One of the reasons for that is that often prosecution services are underfunded and overworked- which affects a wide variety of cases.

          Ah we are mostly in agreement about innocent until proven guilty and good training (minus the unconscious bias issue- which is a whole other discussion). I think we’re largely on the same page- just a few “hows” and whys” that differ 😉

          I’m glad! I enjoy them too!

          Liked by 1 person

          • lucindablogs says:

            I think we might have different views on the link between privilege in society and the link to the justice system, but perhaps we will just have to agree to disagree on that!

            I take all of your points, especially the he said/she said nature of these cases and the burden of proof. I understand that we can’t go prosecuting people without evidence but the fact is that in cases of rape and sexual assault it’s unlikely for the majority of cases that there will be other witnesses/CCTV/forensics – which means that a lot of criminals are not being brought to justice. I have no idea what the answer is to this.

            Liked by 1 person

            • theorangutanlibrarian says:

              I think we definitely do.

              Yes that is true- and I’m not certain what the answer is either. Forensics can be decent provided it’s reported early enough, but we also ought to be looking at preventative measures and ensuring the evidence we do have is used effectively. There’s also the increasing use of messaging as evidence- but this has been known to be manipulated, so probably something to use cautiously. But like I said, I’m not sure on what the answer is and hopefully someone better than me can come up with more effective solutions.

              Liked by 1 person

  18. Lashaan (Bookidote) says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your struggle with this book. 😀 Gosh, that is quite weird, but I’m glad that you took the time to tackle the subject and display your opinion on it all. I had recently read a book that had “rape” at the core of the plot and it did show us how complicated these particular cases are, but we have no choice but to believe in the system or otherwise we’ll be opening up a nice big flaw in it that will undoubtedly be abused forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehe well thanks 😉 Yeah I remember reading your review actually. And honestly, my issue was twofold in terms of how the system was portrayed: 1) the implication was the system was corrupt without any evidence of actual corruption and 2) said implications undermined the principles that hold up the system (“innocent until proven guilty), which is far more problematic.

      Liked by 1 person

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