After much deliberation, I decided to read Anxious People. It had been on my TBR for the longest time but I kept putting it off because I couldn’t bear to be disappointed. There has been so much hype about Backman, and more specifically, about the book that I was almost afraid to pick it up.
I’d read Ove and it remains one of my favourite reads to date. Then I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by the same author and couldn’t like it at all. Backman went off on a fantastical trip that left me far behind.
With Anxious People my faith in him has been more than restored and I already have Bear Town waiting in the wings.
Here’s what it is about
This is the story of a bank robber who tries to rob a bank (obviously!), fails to do so and then runs into a house to hide, only to find a house-viewing in progress. Quite by default, the robber ends up holding hostage, all the people at the viewing.
The hostages are a mixed bunch, each of them with an interesting back story, each with their own worries and anxieties.
Meanwhile, the police arrive. The small town has just two policemen on duty, a father-son duo, who are both clueless enough to Google what they need to do in a hostage situation.
Negotiations are conducted, the hostages are freed and are led out but the robber is nowhere to be found.
So what happened? Where did he go?
Of course you’ll need to read the book to find out. But that’s not the only reason you should read it, it’s not even the primary reason.
Read Anxious People for Backman’s writing. Read it for the way he puts out truisms which are of course universal, and yet he manages to get them to touch you in a deeply personal way. Read it and re-read it for that.
Read it for his observations on marriage and parenthood, heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
Read it for its humour — that special brand of Backman humour – gentle and delightful that can bring tears to your eyes even as it makes you laugh out loud.
Read it for the characters and there’s quite a bunch — too many to handle for any other author. However, Backman with his knack for characterisation, imbues each of them with distinct personalities through back stories.
Read it for all of that and also for the story which is but a bonus and a wonderful bonus at that.
In Anxious People Backman weaves together a delightful family. And I’m not talking of people related by blood — there’s a larger family — a family of people bound by simple human values – that’s the family you fall in love with.
The hostages thrown together in this unusual situation, are but strangers to each other, regular ordinary people. Slowly however their personalities unravel showing their quirks, telling us how they were shaped, why they behave the way they do. And you cannot help empathising with them, loving them even.
The most endearing bit was the way Backman connects his characters’ individual stories – a banker, a police officer, a therapist, a suicidal man on a bridge, a random girl on that same bridge – the narrative ties them up beautifully.
At the end of the day we’re all anxious people. We have our own worries and anxieties that bring out the worst in us forcing us to rob banks or buy houses only to sell them off or seek out therapists. That was my takeaway from the book – to look beyond what people seem at first sight and to treat them with kindness because each one is dealing with more than what is obvious.
Last thought: If you still haven’t read it – do get this book. A more poignant, sad and sweet and warm book you’re not going to find.