Over the years, Fredrik Backman has built a reputation for writing books that perfectly captures the human condition, no matter the circumstances. Anxious People takes perhaps one of the most hilariously outrageous concepts and turns it into a breathtaking story of the messy nature of life. Set in a small Swedish town, Anxious People sets up a hostage drama like no other as we meet the worst hostages ever and a failed robber that’s having a bad day. It’s a quirky scenario that is as charming as it is dark. Don’t expect our characters to shine with their kindness because, at first glance, most of them are unlikeable and frustrating but so very real. Everyone involved in this unconventional hostage situation expresses a sentiment or emotion that will deeply resonate with readers.
“They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.”
It’s a testament to his writing that Backman was able to take a hostage situation and turn it into a series of moments on reflection. In an already highly stressful situation, Backman strips back the drama and focus on human connections. Every person in this situation has a story to tell, reminding us to put aside our prejudices and judgements because we’re all idiots floundering through the messy journey that is life.
Now, that’s not to say that this book is perfect. At times, the narrative felt disjointed as it flips between the past and present. However, when you feel like the book strays too far from its core themes, Backman finds a way to tie everything together in a tangled but cohesive narrative. There’s a lot to take in narratively and structurally, but not once does it lose that heart.
“That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between two people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s.”
Anyone that reads this book is guaranteed to relate to a character in one way or another. This intergenerational cast of character so often reflect the tension that lingers between the youth and our elders. However, the truth is that we can learn from each other so long as we have the patience to listen. In these quiet moments of being caught in a heist gone wrong, we get to see characters from all backgrounds relate to one another. We see it in the parents to be terrified of failing their unborn child, in the retired man desperate to prove his worth or an uncivil banker locked in a cage of memory.
Anxious People is everything you’d expect from a writer as emotive as Backman, but credit must also be given to Neil Smith, whose translation of the book maintains that natural fluidity that’s so engaging. This book may be about a bunch of idiots, but it’s also about empathy, kindness, and finding that glimmer of light in the darkest nights.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
What did you think of Anxious People?
What’s your favourite Fredrik Backman novel?
About the Book
Find: Goodreads | Bookshop
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.
Inside 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?