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Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | General Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is published with Michael Joseph and is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Described as a novel that ‘serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day’, it really is a very special and emotive read.

Anxious People is set in a small town in Sweden where, one day, an unexpected piece of chaos descends on its residents. A bank robber unwittingly enters a, what-turns-out-to-be, cashless bank. In a moment of panic, after realising their mistake, the robber turns and runs out the door to escape the imminent chase only to run in through the door of an apartment complex nearby. The robber is unexpectedly met with a group of prospective buyers and makes the catastrophic decision to ‘take them hostage’. But the robber is not really capable of being a hostage-taker and, if we are being honest, also fails miserably as a bank robber. The seven strangers in the apartment, a quirky mix of personalities, initially fear for their safety, but in a short while it becomes clear that their lives are not at risk. This person, this bank robber, this hostage-taker had never intended their day to turn out like this. They only wanted 6,500 kroner to help them move on with a life that was quickly spiraling out of control.

Outside on the street journalists take up their pews and the police cordon off the area. But this is the day before New Year’s Eve and the local police are under-staffed. It is down to father and son team, Jim and Jack to take charge. Jim is of the old school policing whereas Jack is part of a newer breed which causes much tension during their working day. Backman’s portrayal of the father-son relationship is beautifully rendered. There is an unmistakable love between the two and we are given wonderful insights into their personal lives, together and as individuals.

While Jack and Jim attempt negotiations with the hostage-taker, the stories of the seven strangers in the apartment begin to unfold. Intermingled with police interviews from after the event, the reader is slowly fed titbits that all add up to a very human story indeed.

Anxious People is exactly as its name suggests, a book about anxious people. Each of the characters is struggling. For reasons known only to themselves they are all angst ridden, saddened by events in their lives that have left permanent marks, some more than others. With a combination of humour and pathos, Backman has created a novel filled with compassion as he slowly peels back the layers and dissects the inner sanctum of these people’s lives.

Anxious People is a very clever read. At times the comedy element seems almost to the point of ridiculous but there are reasons for every line spoken and the manner in which it is delivered. Anxious People is a book about humanity and raises the very relevant societal themes of suicide, depression, anxiety, loneliness, fear and much much more. It is a very relatable book as, unfortunately, we all have, or will have, experience of at least one of these at some point in our lives because it is very hard to always be ‘a good human being’

“Because there’s such an unbelievable amount that we’re all supposed to be able to cope with these days. You’re supposed to have a job, and somewhere to live, and a family, and you’re supposed to pay taxes and have clean underwear and remember the password to your damn Wi-Fi. Some of us never manage to get the chaos under control… So we learn to pretend, all the time, about our jobs and our marriages and our children and everything else. Sometimes it hurts, it really hurts, for no other reason than the fact that our skin doesn’t feel like it’s ours..because it’s so horribly, desperately easy to fail at being a grown up.”

Anxious People is a very thought-provoking and off-beat tale, a story that will resonate with many. It is a story for our time.

Endearing. Emotional. Funny.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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