This week Hannah Whittaker is looking at 2019 novel Anxious People from the bestselling Swedish author Fredrik Backman.

I would be lying if I didn’t say the reason I picked up this book in Waterstone’s was because I too am an anxious person. In this instance, I think my actions reflected how much power a novel’s title can hold and how two words that you can personally relate to can draw you into a gripping and unexpected narrative.

As Backman says himself, this book is about a bunch of idiots. The story centres around a bank robber who mysteriously goes missing after escaping into an apartment viewing following an attempt to rob a cashless bank. We follow the personal stories of eight individuals who find themselves being held hostage by said bank robber. The mysterious disappearance of the bank robber emerges when the police are able to negotiate over the phone and the robber agrees to let the hostages go whilst the robber waits in the apartment to be arrested. The hostages are released, the police make their way up, but there is no bank robber to be found. There are so any emotions within this book, and as the reader, you are taken on a rollercoaster of sensations. This is the reason that I chose this book to review this month. The relationships, humour, personal stories and overall narrative has made it one of my favourite books that I read in 2021.

The humour that Backman includes in this book is what drew me in from the first page. I found that it had been a while since I’d read something that genuinely made me laugh out loud, and because I didn’t know what to expect from this book, it made it even better. Backman’s sarcasm and wit mixed with his incredible writing skills made this book stand out for me as it was so different to anything I’d read recently. The special quality that Backman has here is to seamlessly integrate difficult topics— depression, parenthood, grief, and the hardships of marriage— with his humour, making the book that slight bit easier to read. Backman also writes as if he is speaking directly to the speaker, breaking the fourth wall and creating an important, personal atmosphere for the reader.

Without giving too much away, the reader is taken on a journey through the hostage and how each character reacts to it, intertwined with flashbacks to each individual’s own conflicts in life. This character-driven plot links each character together in unexpected ways and provides twists and turns in every chapter keeping the reader curious and involved. The character that stood out the most to me was Zara, a successful bank director whose trauma changed her life. The closed off and borderline rude personality that we meet at the beginning of the book goes through such a dramatic development emotionally and physically. Zara’s and most of the other characters’ responses to the bank robber are hilarious because… they didn’t react. No one seemed to be bothered by the situation that had just arisen, with many even questioning the hesitant bank robber who had no clue what they were doing. Backman uses the hostage situation to bring humour back to the story, in between the rather challenging and heart-breaking personal stories. In my opinion, it is important that Backman represented the light-heartedness of a typically terrifying situation to keep the story funny and not totally depressing. Being able to laugh throughout this book is pivotal, and let’s just say it involves bunnies, chests of wine, and small hiding spaces.

Humour is a huge part of this book, but the theme of anxiety holds just as much importance. The narrative relates largely to the title in that every character we meet faces their own challenges with anxiety and other mental health issues. Backman addresses these topics so that we, as the reader, are taken along on each individual’s journey as they’re working through their anxieties and eventually come out the other side. There is a strong, full-circle, and absolute feeling by the end of this book after the reader has gone on this emotional excursion with each character. Even though I have mainly focused on the humour of the book in this review, it is important to remember that there are challenging topics discussed in this novel, and at times, it was devastatingly hard to read about the troubles these people each faced.

Overall, this novel is poignant, relatable, and an incredibly enjoyable read. There is so much depth into each character’s life, and the diversity of these characters will appeal to a huge range of audiences. The way in which the storyline is broken up with snippets from the police interviews with each hostage and flashbacks into each of their lives also means that your attention will be grasped on every page. This was such a unique and entertaining story that can make you laugh, cry, or both at the same time. The book has recently been released as a TV series on Netflix, which I am yet to watch but am confident will be just as amusing as the novel. But I would highly recommend reading Anxious People first. There is a way that Backman can connect with you so poignantly as a reader, and it is something that I think everyone should experience.

Page-turner – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Complexity – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Storyline – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You can read more of Hannah’s work by following @hw.reads on Instagram.

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