Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 August 2020 from Michael Joseph
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of this book
In a small town in Sweden it appears to be an ordinary day. But look more closely, and you’ll see a mysterious masked figure approaching a bank…
Two hours later, chaos has descended. A bungled attempted robbery has developed into a hostage situation – and the offender is refusing to communicate their demands to the police.
Within the building, fear quickly turns to irritation for the seven strangers trapped inside. If this is to be their last day on earth, shouldn’t it be a bit more dramatic?
But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal mastermind holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are . . .
I realised a while ago that, without any great fanfare, Fredrik Backman has slipped effortlessly into my short ‘must read whatever they write’ list. It was the Beartown books that did it, but there’s something about Backman’s writing that pierces any armour you might be wearing and cuts straight to the heart of your emotional core.
Not that his books are romantic or soppy, not at all. Rather they are beautifully told portraits of ordinary people, their relationships and insecurities and how those impact on the people around them.
His special power is to draw people we recognise and then show us what lies beneath the surface Doubts, fears, love and losses all come under his gaze in a way that is both warm and compassionate and always makes you think he sees the best in people.
That he can do this with a touch of the absurd and a lot of humour, without laughing at his subjects, is a tribute to the depth and quality of his writing. Backman makes you want to know his characters, to understand them and to laugh with them, and at the same time to understand that their quirks are part of who they are and that knowing that is what makes us human.
In Anxious People Backman gives us a father and son at odds with each other, both in the same Police Department involved in a case where a would-be bank robber inadvertently holds a group of people hostage when the escape route diverts into a real estate apartment viewing, and the viewers and estate agent become the robber’s hostages.
Backman takes these people: two couples, two women a man dressed as a rabbit and the estate agent and as he introduces them and slowly unrolls their stories, they become not the awkward people we first saw them as, but individuals with their own sadness, histories and insecurities.
The genius of Backman is that you don’t get a cloying sweetness. These people are often difficult, sharp and not terribly bright in how they go about living their lives. He tackles some big themes – a fractured society, loneliness and the isolation of modern living – but the way he does that is with a light touch and a lot of wry observation tinged with a touch of the absurd and a lot of humour.
Verdict: A beautifully told story. There is something deeply comforting about showing us that the worst things about people on the surface are driven by their own fears, experiences and insecurities. Somehow, in the midst of this pandemic, that is both hopeful and strangely comforting.
Fredrik Backman, born in June 1981, is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, as well as a novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. Fredrik Backman, Swedish author, journalist, and blogger, was voted Sweden’s most successful author in 2013.
Backman grew up in Helsingborg, studied comparative religion but dropped out and became a truck driver instead. When the free newspaper Xtra was launched in 2006, the owner reached out to Backman, then still a truck driver, to write for the paper. After a test article, he continued to write columns for Xtra.In spring 2007, he began writing for Moore Magazine in Stockholm, a year-and-a-half later he began freelancing, and in 2012 he became a writer for the Metro.His books are published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.