On the Bookshelf...

Anxious People

Fredrick Backman

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths. First is Zara, a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else until tragedy changed her life. Now, she’s obsessed with visiting open houses to see how ordinary people live—and, perhaps, to set an old wrong to right. Then there’s Roger and Anna-Lena, an Ikea-addicted retired couple who are on a never-ending hunt for fixer-uppers to hide the fact that they don’t know how to fix their own failing marriage. Julia and Ro are a young lesbian couple and soon-to-be parents who are nervous about their chances for a successful life together since they can’t agree on anything. And there’s Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by a masked bank robber waving a gun in her face. And despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car. As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

Anxious People by Fredrick Backman was my book group read for August. I wasn't quite expecting what a stunning read it would prove to be, yet it was probably my favourite book group book yet. As the title illustrates it deals with mental health issues in a way that Matt Haig would be proud of. A Book that deserves the plaudits it has received.

Essentially a tale of a botched bank robbery and a subsequent hostage situation in an apartment, yet it's much more than that. Everything is linked to a bridge visible from the apartments and two suicide attempts. One successful and another foiled. All the protagonists are linked to the events. This is rich multi-layered story that just when you think you're making sense of the whole things, peels back and reveals another layer to the mix.

At time it feels like a Monty python sketch, especially the Police interrogations. By the way these are done in play format, which nicely breaks up the prose. These must be the most dysfunctional policemen you'd ever meet. There's a running joke involving Stockholmers, which seems to mean different things to the characters. The humour is never far from the surface here. You slowly pick through the bones of the story uncovering the intricacies of the lives of those taken hostage. Nothing is given easily, yet revealed in response to events.

I can only envy Fredrick Backman for his writing style. It's chatty, almost as though he were there talking to you. As I say humour is never far below the surface, the situations at times being harrowing to read. The neat little overuse of a joke really impressed me. There's the House Tricks estate agents pun which is used relentlessly. A lesser author wouldn't have delivered it so well. How he pulled the rabbit out of the hat, or rather the closet, had me in ears.

Just when you think you've worked out the end, it twists again. Like landing a large fish, it twists and turns before eventually the truth comes out. A sensitive and hopeful ending which was so satisfying. I read each word of the final chapters, not wanting to miss anything. I'm glad I did, because this book gave me hope. I suppose that's the point of it. Like The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, it restores your faith in humanity, a task few books do these days. This is an author I want to read more of.

One of the best books I've read this year. Five Towers all the way.

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Review by
AJ Steel
August 17, 2023

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