Book review and synopsis for Anxious People by Frederik Backman, a comedic but sincere novel about a failed bank robbery gone right.
SynopsisAnxious People is about a failed bank robbery that turns an apartment viewing into a hostage situation and the subsequent investigation into it. The victims are argumentative and difficult, the bank robber is distraught and the realtor is incompetent. But when a gunshot goes off and the police find an apartment covered in blood, things get serious. It's a darkly comedic, yet also lighthearted story about a group of impossible people that are all stuck together, about empathy and battles we are all fighting, about people's struggles and hopes and dreams, and about a missing bank robber that the police can't seem to track down.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of Anxious PeopleQuick Plot Summary
The one-sentence version of this is that Anxious People is about a group of people held hostage after a bank robbery who get to know each other, and they end up helping each other and helping the bank robber to find her way out of the mess.
The story, told achronologically, opens by explaining that, on the day before New Years Eve, there has been a failed bank robbery in a small town. The robber goes into a bank to demand a small amount of money, only to learn that it is a cashless bank. The robber flees into a nearby apartment building and into an apartment showing. The robber takes the people there hostage. It's soon surrounded by police. After a hours-long ordeal, the hostages are released. Afterwards, a gunshot goes off and the police storm the apartment to find it empty, but covered in blood.
Afterwards, the police question the eight hostages, all of whom are unhelpful and difficult. The hostages are: the realtor, a young couple (Julia and Ro), an elderly woman (Estelle), a businesswoman (Zara), an older couple (Roger and Anna-Lena) and finally a man (Lennart).
Zara is a bank manager. Ten years ago, a man jumped from a bridge nearby after losing all his money during the financial crisis. He had requested a loan, but was denied by Zara. He mails her a note before he jumps. A decade later, she still keeps it in her handbag, unopened. Jim and Jack are the local policemen investigating the robbery. Jim is Jack's father. As a teenager, Jack had seen the man on the bridge and tried unsuccessfully to convince him not to jump. A week later he sees another girl there, Nadia, about to jump. He pulled her back forcefully, and she grows up to become a psychiatrist.
Julia and Ro are looking for a home, since Julia is pregnant. The older couple, Roger and Anna-Lena, are retirees who renovate and sell apartments. Estelle, a widow, is there on behalf of her daughter. Lennart, an actor, ends up emerging from the bathroom, dressed in a ridiculous rabbit costume (Anna-Lena hires him to ruin viewings to bring down the price).
When the distraught robber comes in with a pistol, they don't take the robber very seriously. But they don't leave, either. The robber is recently divorced. It's revealed that her husband cheated on her with her boss, leaving her homeless, jobless and penniless. She sold her possessions and got a new job (but hasn't been paid yet). She needs just one month's rent to prevent being evicted from her new place. Her husband is also demanding sole custody of their kids. Feeling desperate, she decided to hold up the bank with a gun she finds.
Stuck in the apartment, the group of strangers get to know each other. Julia worries about being a good mother. Ro talks about falling in love with Julia. Estelle talks about missing her late husband. At first people think Roger is a jerk who bosses Anna-Lena around, but that's not the case. Anna-Lena used to have a high-powered job. Roger put his career on hold, so she could pursue her dreams. Now, she helps him with the apartment flipping even though she's tired of it, because she thinks it's his turn to do something that is meaningful to him.
The robber decides to just let all of them go, but they stay to help her figure out a way out of the mess. They're also waiting on a pizza they demanded from the police outside. When Jim comes up to deliver the pizzas, he learns what the robber's story is. He feels bad for her, and he suggests that she hide in the apartment next door, which is vacant. (He later lies and doesn't tell his son about seeing her.) Estelle reveals that this apartment belongs to her daughter. It used to be hers, and she once had an (emotional) affair with the neighbor next door. She still has a key to the apartment. She gives it to the bank robber, who uses it to hide out after the hostages leave.
Afterwards, Jack investigates, trying to learn how the bank robber could have disappeared. He finds out that the blood is fake (it was one of Lennart's props). He figures out that after the phone they sent up (to communicate with the robber) must've vibrated, causing the table to shake and the pistol to fall off, resulting in the errant gunshot. Meanwhile, Jim finally tells Jack the truth about what happened when he went to deliver the pizzas.
Jack and Jim decide not to pursue the case. In the end, no one was injured and nothing was stolen. Estelle ends up staying in that apartment. Estelle lets the robber stay with her. Julia and Ro buy the neighbor's apartment. Zara finally opens the note in the her purse, which simply says "it wasn't your fault", and she starts seeing Lennart. Jack and Nadia reunite. The book ends with the reminder of how people and strangers can impact each others' lives and how we're all just people who want the same basic things and are struggling with the same things.
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.