Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Review by Marcus Coleridge

Set in a quiet and seemingly insignificant town in Sweden, Anxious People tells the story of a bank robber who, as it turns out, is far beyond the stereotype. Following a failed and rather humiliating bank robbery, our perpetrator is on the run and stumbles into an apartment viewing. Making the decision to take them hostage in a desperate attempt at self-preservation, it becomes clear that our robber is more in need of rescuing than those she’s taken hostage. Having taken limited command of the situation, Backman strategically shines the spotlight on each of the hostages in the apartment. Be prepared for your interpretations of people to change as the focus shifts from character to character, and we explore the troubles and pitfalls of these anxious people; including a bewildered estate agent, an arrogant banker, an elderly lady, a mysterious man in a toilet and two couples, one of whom can’t seem to agree on anything despite the imminent birth of their first child, and the other, a strange and broken relationship between two elderly fixer-uppers who turn to property renovation in search of solace because they can’t fix their own marriage.

Is it a crime novel? Is it a detective novel? Or is it a novel about truth? I’ll let you make your own minds up, but strap in and be prepared for some twists and turns as while at first, you may seem to grasp the situation, very quickly some glaring omissions become apparent in our understanding of the hostages. Backman encourages us to think deeply about the complexity of ordinary life and the challenges that we all face, be it emotional, physical or financial. By homing in on the individual stories of the hostages, we find catharsis in a way I have not experienced in a book before or since.

A story of love, of life, and all the challenges that those bring, Anxious People, will have you flying through the pages in a frantic attempt to uncover the truth, promoting a message to readers at all stages in life about the power of unity, demonstrating that even the greatest problems can be helped by a collective desire to do the right thing.