SWFT Wellbeing Reading Group book review – Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

What have an estate agent, a pair of home renovators, two panicky parents-to-be, a bank manager, and a grandmother all got in common? They are all the accidental hostages of a would be bank robber in Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People, a novel that became instant No.1 New York Times Bestseller, and is now a Netflix series.

The SWFT Reading Group choice for May was Anxious People by Frederik Backman, translated from the original Swedish by Neil Smith. Set in a small town in Sweden the action takes place on New Year’s Eve when an estate agent is showing prospective buyers around an apartment. Admittedly this is an unusual time to show apartments, but there are people who ready to view. They aren’t ready for what happens next.

This book was generally liked by our group, and even those who hadn’t yet finished it said they were enjoying it. While it was a quick read, it was clever and had unexpected highs and lows throughout the story. The rather quirky writing style reminded some of our group of Douglas Adams’ novels as it at first it seemed as though everything was completely unconnected and meaningless, but then it all made sense at the end. Others likened the Scandinavian dry humour to the Danish-American comedian and conductor Victor Borg. The jokes and unexpected humour in the novel made it a light read, even when discussing suicide attempts on a nearby bridge, or satirising topics such as apartment buying, capitalism, and modern society (how can a bank robber hold up a cashless bank?).

The novel also explored relationships and people’s impacts on one another – from between the group of hostages and also between the father and son police team dealing with the situation. Our group thought that this was particularly well written, as it explored the hostage’s attitudes towards one another and how these kept changing with the ongoing situation. The descriptions and explanations of people’s back stories which had led them to be in this situation felt a valid part of the story rather than contrived, although we did have a few comments about how similar some parts of the novel were, such as the police interviews with the (deliberately obtuse) hostages – although this did make sense later. Several of the group said that their assumptions had been turned on their heads and had to go and re-read parts of the book to see where they had gone wrong (no spoilers here!).

We felt that the characterisation was great and could easily see this as a film (Backman also wrote A Man Named Ove which is now a film starring Tom Hanks). The theme of connections, however tenuous, that ran through the book did make it seem slightly unrealistic in places, but nevertheless we enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Next month’s read is the fascinating Girl, Woman, Other by the prolific Bernardine Evaristo. This novel has won the Booker Prize, and was also Sunday Times No.1 Bestseller. It shares the stories of twelve very different people on their travels through the Britain through the years. Described as ‘utterly irresistible’ by Goodreads, we will share our views on it when we meet up in June.

If you would like to borrow a copy, just pop along to the Education Centre Library at SWFT and pick one up.

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