Fiction, literary fiction

Book Review: Anxious People by Frederick Backman

Anxious People | Book by Fredrik Backman | Official Publisher Page | Simon  & Schuster

“This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is.”

It’s an open house and 8 people are at the apartment viewing when a bank robber bursts in and takes them hostage…or so it seems. While the cops – which consists of a father and son duo – are figuring out how to free them, the strangers pass the time by starting up conversations, learning about each other and figuring out that ultimately, they are all the same – anxious human beings who are just trying to figure life out and make it work.

“Some people accept that they will never be free of their anxiety, they just learn to carry it. She tried to be one of them. She told herself that was why you should always be nice to other people, even idiots, because you never know how heavy their burden is.”

I recently declared Backman my favorite author after being knocked out (in a good way) by Beartown and Us Against Them. He has such a way with words that it’s easy to forget that it’s a translation from Swedish. His writing is so poignant to me that I was excited to read this and it pained me that this was my first Backman novel that didn’t blow me away and honestly that is not to say that it still wasn’t good, it just did not blow me away.

“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 difficult to navigate and find focus in a book when there are a large number of characters involved but Backman handled it well. I felt like I got a good understanding of the characters, their background and the anxieties they carried. As always, there were lots of quotables that any adult who is adulting would appreciate. I do think he did a good job of conveying a wide array of anxieties that could be felt by different groups of people (old, young, married, gay etc) via his characters. I like how he made them vulnerable and it felt like the reader was privy to their innermost thoughts and made them relatable.

All that being said, one of the things I enjoy about his books are how I get so sucked in and invested in the characters and I did not get that with this book and this could be because there were so many of them. The closest was the cop-son but even then it felt like a storyline that was never finished. Why mention his sister if it was not leading anywhere?

Our lives are bars of soap that we keep losing hold of; the moment we relax, they drift off and fall in love and get broken, all in the wink of an eye.

It took me some time to get into the book. I started out reading and then I switched to audio (the narrator is fantastic!). I do think the book starts slow and the “bank robbery” sneaks up on you like a surprise. I don’t enjoy works of art that try to be too smart for their own good and at some point in the book, I felt that way. I don’t read Backman for twists and turns and gotcha moments, I am mostly there for the humanity.

In summary, I am glad I pushed through and made it to the end. All the elements of a good book were in this, it just didn’t quite come together perfectly and sometimes lost its way and seemed a bit disjointed. One minute, you could be laughing and the next wondering where the story is going. I acknowledge that I am grading Backman on a higher curve – compared to his other books, it doesn’t measure up but as a stand alone, it is a decent book. If you have ever wanted to read a Backman book, I would suggest not starting with this and starting instead with Beartown.


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