I can’t remember how I came across ‘Anxious People’ by Fredrik Backman, but I’m so glad I did. As soon as I began to read it, I knew it was something truly special. I’m not someone who effuses about books very often, even though I’m a voracious reader, so the fact that I’m telling everyone I know to READ THIS NOW, plus writing this post, means that this book has deeply moved me.
It’s not very easy to explain what ‘Anxious People’ is actually about…. Yet, I find that this is often a characteristic of the best novels. Firstly, let me tell you that Fredrik Backman is Swedish, and I read the English translation of the book by Neil Smith. As the writing style and the way the words envelop you like a friend was a huge part of the reading experience for me, I wanted to recognise Neil Smith’s huge talent in this quarter, as he so eloquently conveys Backman’s words.
At first sight, ‘Anxious People’ is a novel about a bank robber. Not an experienced bank robber with gang members and weapons and getaway cars, but a novice bank robber who has never performed a bank robbery before. As the robber attempts to rob a cashless bank in a small Swedish town, problems naturally arise with this plan, and the robber escapes as the police are being called. During the escape, a group of people in the process of viewing an apartment are taken hostage by the bank robber… Let’s just say that the bank robber is not a professional kidnapper, either.
You can probably tell that this isn’t your average Scandi thriller, catapulting from drama to drama at high speed. Neither does my description above come anywhere near close enough to encapsulating the events, or the sentiment of the novel. Not only do we get to know the bank robber and the hostages, we also get to know the police officers, a father and son team with a complicated relationship. We get to know other characters on the outskirts of the story too; but are they really at its heart?
In fact, this might not be a novel about a bank robber at all. It could be about a bridge. It could be about the financial collapse of 2008. It could be about love, or forgiveness. It could be about grief, mental health, death and suicide. It’s even about how close we all are to being bank robbers ourselves. It is about all of these things, and more. Most of all, to me it is about human nature and connection.
As I read ‘Anxious People’ at the end of 2020, I knew that this was a book for our times, a book for the world as we muddle through the pandemic. As the characters reached out to each other, metaphorically and physically, I felt that this is what is needed during these times that we must be apart, but also what we must commit to doing when we can finally hug again.
This novel made me laugh, it made me cry. It left me feeling warm and fuzzy, and left me feeling disheartened. It left me confused that it was able to do this to me! After all, it looks like an ordinary book; but its effect on me was anything but. As I closed the back cover for the last time, I sobbed. In sorrow, yes, at some of the characters’ hardships, but mainly with hope. Let it bring you hope, too.