The day before New Year’s Eve, a desperate robber aims to rob a bank in a small Swedish town. The only problem: it’s a cashless bank. When the police are closing in, the culprit flees into a nearby apartment building and ends up turning an ordinary apartment viewing into an extraordinary hostage situation.
The hostages are a bunch of interesting people, to say the least. There’s Zara, a well-off middle-aged bank director with a biting sense of humour; Roger and Anna-Lena, a retired couple who tries to stay busy by renovating and selling apartments; Julia and Ro, a squabbling lesbian couple expecting their first child; Estelle, a gentle eighty-seven-year-old woman; a ridiculous real estate agent who disappears in the middle of the hostage situation; and, to make things more absurd, a surprise guest wearing a rabbit’s head who has locked himself in the apartment’s bathroom.
And then there’s the comical police duo Jim and Jack, who are probably the most incompetent policemen to have been made responsible for the case…
Such is the premise of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel Anxious People (translated by Neil Smith).
If you’re expecting a classic hostage mystery drama, I got to disappoint you. Because in this novel, nothing is what it seems. Not the hostage situation, not the bank robber, not the policemen and certainly not the eight hostages.
“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is.”
The story is carefully crafted and written in such a way that it’s impossible to put the book down without wondering what will happen next. Switching back and forth between the hostage situation, the police’s investigation and the characters’ backstories, the narrative is full of twists and turns. Whenever you think that you know where the story is leading, there’s something that happens that’ll prove you wrong.
Backman’s characters start out as comical, almost caricature-like figures, but develop into full-fledged characters, each one with their unique backstory, their own secrets and anxieties. This also means that what initially appears to be a humorous story gives way to a complex and at times heartbreaking tale about love, friendship, compassion and death.
“That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between two people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s.”
The vivid language instantly transported me into the world and I found myself laughing one minute and heartbroken the next. The balance between the more humourous and serious scenes worked perfectly for me. This book got everything a compelling story needs: an original storyline, memorable characters, engaging dialogues, wit, tragedy, and a lot of dark humour.
The ending is surprising, as is almost everything in the novel, but it fits the narrative perfectly. It’ll leave you with mixed feelings but in a more than positive sense. This is hands-down one of my favourite reads this year and I’m excited to explore more of Backman’s other works!
Have you read Anxious People? How did you like it? Let me know in the comment section below!