Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Let’s be honest: this post is more of a love letter to Fredrik Backman than it is about just his newest title. But to be fair, Anxious People is a good example of what makes Backman such an amazing writer.

In Anxious People, a desperate bank robber flees from the police into the first available door in the first available building: an apartment showing where seven people and a realtor have gathered to examine the property. The hostage drama only lasts a few hours, but afterwards, the bank robber is nowhere to be found and nothing will ever quite be the same.

My experience reading Backman has taught me to expect three things from a book by him: lots of unexpected humor about the absurdity of everyday life, deeply empathetic descriptions of each and every character’s personality and circumstances, and tears of heartbreak for senseless tragedies. The first is what draws you into a Backman book in the first place; the sense that you’re at a very gentle comedy club. The second is what keeps you reading: a sudden and deep attachment to the characters which makes you anxious for their wellbeing. To be honest, it took me a few books to catch onto the last one, so be warned: you will probably cry reading Backman. But don’t worry, it’s worth it. In some ways, Backman’s books are acts of catharsis: by experiencing the highs and lows of these ordinary people’s lives, you see the truth of what living is like for all of us (including beauty, pain, frustration, and tedium), and hopefully come to terms with it.

In my opinion, this book displays the classic Backman strategies and emotional impacts, and it’s definitely going to linger with me for a while. The examination of poverty and class are really thorny issues, and he also raises the question of responsibility; how heavy a responsibility it is to be a parent, and how much responsibility we bear for the effect our words and actions have on others. It is also, of course, a very funny book: the pair of policemen investigating the event are father and son, and that partnership goes about as well as you’d expect — and as it turns out, each of the hostages has their own opinion on how the bank robber ought to be doing things. Basically, personalities and foibles clash and sarcasm ensues, to delightful humorous effect. Moreover, for me, this book was very heartfelt, but full of hope — something we all need more of right now.

If you need a good laugh, a good cry, or to feel like humanity as a whole means well (even when they’re idiots) please do try reading this book. And if you’re new to Backman, I cannot recommend him enough: try Beartown, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, or Britt-Marie Was Here (as well as Man Called Ove, of course) for the ultimate mashup of tearjerker and comedy.

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