Review of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People

Fredrik Backman

September 8, 2020

Atria Books

Blurb: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

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 eighty-seven-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’ve got 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.

Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious times.

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Someone asked me what Fredrik Backman’s latest novel, Anxious People, was about, and suddenly I felt like this was a pop quiz that I was about to fail. On its surface, Anxious People is about a bank robbery gone wrong and when it does, the bank robber panics, darts into the building across the street where there’s an apartment viewing. The would-be robber unfortunately then has unwanted hostages.

But Anxious People is so much more, so very much more.

If you’re a new reader to Backman’s books, his writing at first may seem meandering with almost-folksy observations. You may be tempted to skip a paragraph or two, mistakenly believing that these words in these paragraphs don’t mean anything, but they do. Don’t skip.

Pay attention. A random observation might seem random. It’s not.

Despite the fact that I’ve read all of his books, I still had to re-read passages, and I don’t mean in that bad way that means the writer hasn’t done a good job. But in that way that means the reader wasn’t paying attention.

. . . you end up marrying the one you don’t understand. Then you spend the rest of your life trying

Backman has this enviable ability to write all types of characters but doesn’t stop on the surface. This is why one of my favorite characters is Zara who might be considered repugnant because she doesn’t give anyone an inch. She’s a snob. She’s razor sharp. She’s acerbic. She is unrelenting in her judgments. Yet, even early on, before I knew her story, I liked her. Little details were inserted before I learned her story, enough to know that there were layers below the surface.

And this is true of every single character. Not a single one, well, except for perhaps the real estate agent who offers very little, is one-dimensional. But not only that, all are viewed with a compassionate eye. It is this compassionate eye that makes Backman’s writing stand alone in the current writing of which I’m aware. It’s easy to verbally paint a picture of an alcoholic that results in dislike. So much harder to write one that results in caring.

As in real life, no one is as they seem. One of my favorite revelations is about Roger, who comes across as an arrogant man, yet for whom we discover another side resounding in a reaction that feels like a slap.

As readers, we sometimes become complacent with novels that have a store of stock characters. Backman takes these stock characters and turns them on their ear. As a reader and a writer, I loved this journey. It’s one that says: never judge. Ever.

Perhaps not much happens “action-wise” in the novel, but, on the other hand, so much does. We experience the lives of nine or so characters in the space of 350+ pages that fly by much like life.

I definitely experienced so many emotions as I read Anxious People with the strongest being awe at the talent, awareness, compassion of the author.

Frequently I pooh-pooh the idea of going back and re-reading books. So many books, so little time is my motto. But for Backman’s books I will make time, and Anxious People will be at the top of the list.

My recommendation: Read. This. Book.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.



5 out of 5 butterflies

5 thoughts on “Review of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

    1. I hope you do check him out. Probably his most famous book is A Man Called Ove, but I’ve enjoyed his recent books more. Beartown and its sequel and then completely unrelated Anxious People. If you do read him, let me know what you think.

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