Author of bestselling novel A Man Called Ove, Swedish writer Fredrik Backman has certainly done it again!
I want you to imagine a person, face covered in a black ski mask, pistol in hand, demanding that the bank teller agrees to their demands. What could possibly go wrong? Contrary to heist movies, or perhaps exactly like heist movies, the answer to that question is everything. For starters, that ‘scary’ pistol is actually a child’s toy. Secondly and more importantly, this particular bank happens to be cashless. And it’s at this point that the bank robber begins to realize that their day will definitely head in a different direction than the one they had planned; that’s assuming there was a plan at all!
And that’s how an open house held the day before New Year’s Eve, in an apartment facing said bank, located in a small town in Sweden, became the setting for a hostage drama. It’s the first one this town has ever had. The police don’t know what to do, the hostages don’t know what to do, and the bank robber definitely doesn’t know what to do. But one thing seems clear: these hostages, eight strangers, and the bank robber are going to be locked in for quite some time. So, they might as well spend this time getting to know each other.
And that’s how the bank robber discovers they’ve managed to come across the worst group of hostages ever.
Why You Need to Read It
While Anxious People tells the story of a bank robbery gone wrong, the novel is actually about idiots. I mean, that’s the only conclusion you can come up with as you try to figure out why a half-naked man wearing only a rabbit’s head would lock himself in the bathroom. More significantly, why would the bank robber request fireworks instead of ransom? But it’s precisely them that you stick around for. We all know that idiots, their actions, and decisions make for the best stories. And soon enough, as you learn of the characters’ compelling backstories and their heartbreaking and heartwarming secrets, you might even find them growing on you. After all, don’t we all act like idiots more often than we care to admit?
Aside from the captivating characters, Backman’s writing is bound to pull readers in. The author uses a very informal tone, often even breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the readers. While some might find this off-putting, feeling like they’re getting tugged out of the story, I found it had the opposite effect. This informality can yank readers deeper into the novel’s heavier themes as they feel like they’re having a conversation with a good friend. One that is so relatable and authentic that at times it can seem frightening as you think, “how can this one person know exactly how to describe what I’m feeling?”
But perhaps the thing that makes this novel and its writer stand out the most is the story’s meaning and purpose. Throughout Anxious People, Backman uses a balanced mix of humor and sincerity to discuss life, marriage, parenthood, love, and death, saying what we think but dare not to say ourselves out of fear that we’ll be alone. While the book can be categorized as a mystery, comedy, and a drama it will certainly bring out the philosopher in you as you begin to appreciate, through the characters and their stories, the difficulty of being human, the unpredictability of life, and the compassion and kindness needed to survive it.
Although typically a cliché phrase to use when describing a book, Anxious People will make you laugh, cry, and feel everything in between.
Trigger warning: the novel does contain several references to and discussions of suicide, so if that is upsetting to you, Anxious People may not be the right fit.
Photo: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock
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