Let's Discuss: 'Anxious People' by Fredrik Backman

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 . . .

Looking at real estate isn't usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can't fix their own marriage.

There's a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can't seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an 87-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment's only bathroom, and you have the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them, the bank robber included, desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Question: The man on the bridge tells the boy, “Do you know what the worst thing about being a parent is? That you’re always judged by your worst moments.... Parents are defined by their mistakes.” Do you think this statement is true? Does social media make it more likely to be the case these days? In what ways are people critical of other’s parenting choices? Do you think that the bank robber is a bad parent?

As a parent, I believe this statement to be completely true, especially in a social media driven world. It's an unfortunate way to be, but I don't believe judgement always comes from a negative place. There is so much pressure on parents to be 'perfect' and often people judge others based on their own insecurities. I don't believe the bank robber was a bad parent, just a desperate one who made some bad choices.

Question: How did you feel when the identity of the bank robber was revealed? Were your assumptions challenged? How does the author manage to keep this a surprise?

I think that the author wrote the story knowing that us readers would automatically assume the gender of the bank robber to be male. I was surprised and weirdly delighted when it was revealed that it was actually a lady. It made it easier to sympathize with the character and as a female reader myself, easier to imagine myself in that situation as a desperate mother trying to do her best for her children.

Question: Estelle says her book-swapping moments with her neighbor were “an affair.” Do you agree? What counts as an affair if there’s no physical relationship involved? What book would you give as a present to a crush?

I believe that to Estelle, it was a definite affair. Affairs of the heart can be as destructive as physical affairs, however for Estelle it was very innocent and her description of it as an 'affair' may be more to do with her age and the 'times' she grew up in.

I would lend an epic book that would take them a while to read, but one that is so fantastic that we could talk about it for days - Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett or River God by Wilbur Smith are two that come to mind.

Question: Anxious People is very much a character study. How did your feelings about these characters change over the course of the book? Who is your favorite character and why? Which character surprised you the most and why?

Like all Backman novels, a lot of his characters are unlikeable to begin with, but he has a way of explaining them and opening them up that makes you love them at the end. My favourite character was Estelle, I thought she was funny, adorable and although she didn't get as much 'page time' as the other characters, I loved all her dialogue and felt like just giving her a big cuddle.

Anna-Lena was the biggest surprise for me, she came across so neurotic and annoying for most of the book but when her truth was revealed I just thought 'huh, you're actually pretty amazing and I totally get you now!'

I would love to hear your thoughts and answers to these questions in the comments below!

Rhi x

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