Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

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.

Within 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?

But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal mastermind holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are . . .

This book made me think of the expression misery likes company. Because, when I listened to this, I’ve been feeling miserable. And I enjoyed being around other people who were stressed out over life. Anxious People portrays a group of people who are ultimately an assemblage of the best of human nature despite their multiple flaws. It’s beautiful, it’s real and raw, and truly unforgettable. 

This book shows human facets, that to describe as entertaining, heartbreaking and enjoyable, is just too simplistic. It shows how wishful, idiotic, kind, mean, clever and compassionate humans are. It illustrates imperfection in a variety of ways. It considers how our individual actions have a greater effect beyond ourselves and immediate surroundings. It explores human connection, tense relationships, life upheaval, loss, feeling suicidal, experiencing depression and everyday stress in amongst the anxiety of everything else. One minute I was smiling at something funny and then the next I was deflating like a balloon due to a character’s pains. 

Whilst I really liked Anxious People, I found reading the e-book challenging. The style of Backman’s writing and the story’s progression (which jumps focus from character to character and timelines) wasn’t really my cup of tea, so I resorted to the audiobook to help me finish the book, which breathed new life into the way I felt about the story.

Listening to the audiobook in lockdown made me feel like I was less alone. Not only was this good for my sanity, but I felt less alone in my anxiety about life and everything going on around me. Marin Ireland did a marvellous job of distinguishing each character so they all stood out; it felt enthusiastic and genuine, and Ireland is probably one of my favourite narrators I’ve listened to. So if you take one thing from my review, please make it this: if you hit a snag on this book or simply want a great audiobook, get the audiobook of Anxious People. It’s fantastic. 

This is a complicated, hearty story that has generated a greater appreciation the more I’ve thought on it. It’s an exploration of feeling helpless, with striking prose, relatable imagery and metaphors. It’s cleverly woven and interconnected yet reads very jumbled, thereby emphasising anxiety and flaws, providing further sincerity and emotive dimensions to a poignant novel. And all the while, in my opinion, it does weaken the readability of the book, Anxious People is most definitely worth a read – especially the audiobook – if you’re ever in need of a story that reminds us we’re all capable of being anxious people at the end of the day.

*Whilst I’m rating the story 3 stars, Ireland’s performance is without a doubt 5 stars.

Buy It Now

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Published August 2020

Genre: contemporary

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