This was just the sort of thing I should have picked up at the beginning of the pandemic when I was having trouble settling my mind enough to read. On the surface, a book about a handful of people being held hostage in an apartment in Sweden by an incompetent bank robber seems like the wrong book to read now. It’s like the nightmare that I occasionally have: finding myself unmasked and trapped in close proximity to unmasked strangers whose risky behaviors during the pandemic I am not privy to. In any event, these anxious people are not living during a pandemic. They are just living with all of the other garbage life can hand you. Turns out a book about a bunch of anxious people under duress was somehow comforting.
The premise sounds like a bad joke. An inexperienced bank robber walks into a cashless bank and ends up at an apartment viewing in the building across the street holding several people hostage. More than enough to fill a novel full of interesting hijinks, to be sure, but that’s not what this book is about. Backman’s emotional rollercoaster had me laughing out loud with enough force to wake up my sleeping husband but just as frequently had me reaching for a tissue or two.
Backman’s narrative is not linear or chronological which takes some getting used to. However, it is strung beautifully together with tidbits from a narrator that offer some backstory, hint at the relationships between the characters, and lay down some foreshadowing. The conversational tone in those moments created the sense of a campfire story full of “wait, but did I tell you about this” or “but we’ll get back to that.”
I am true lover of epics. Give me characters with Dickensian depth that are unknowingly linked to one another by a series of outrageous circumstances and I AM INVESTED. Here, Backman manages to give me that in a contemporary package about the timeless need of human connection. A bank robber, some hostages and two local police officers just trying to figure it all out.
It’s my first Backman. I know, I know. Very late to the party. A Man Called Ove and Beartown have been on my Goodreads to read list for ages and for one reason or another I just never picked them up. I definitely will now.