Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Title: Anxious People
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: ☕☕☕☕☕(5/5)
Content Warning: *highlight to view* {suicide, attempted suicide, mention of substance abuse, hostage, death of a loved one, grief, ptsd}

As is the usual, I got tempted to buy Anxious People exactly because of how quirky looking its cover is. Little did I know that this will be one of the most important books that I will ever encounter and one that I will probably treasure for a very very long time.

BLURB

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 up their own marriage. There’s a wealthy banker who has been too busy making money 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 a motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.
Humorous, compassionate, and wise, 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 of times.
(via Goodreads)

THOUGHTS

Everyone in the apartment was wrestling with their own story.

At the onset, Anxious People was about a bank robbery that turned into a hostage situation that is not really a hostage situation. That’s all you need to know – and it was probably a good choice to go into this book blind because that’s what I did and it turned out to be such a ride. Funny. Heartbreaking. Hopeful. It is a rainbow of emotions & quite a journey.

This is my first Fredrik Backman book and from what I gathered, he tends to write character-driven stories. In Anxious People, it really showed. This book introduced me to a whole variety of colorful characters, each fleshed out to an almost painful manner and each was given space to highlight their stories: their struggles, their worries, their breakthroughs. I loved how quirky the characters are, how real they all feel. With the number of characters he put focus on in this book, I can’t believe Backman managed to make me care about each one of them.

Across their stories, this book explored themes on parenthood, marriage, societal pressures of being an adult, effects of capitalism, mental health, dealing with trauma, community and probably one of my favorite themes in this book: grief. There was one instance in the book where one character reflected on the idea of death: “The hardest thing about death is the grammar, the tense…” and I just sat there dumbfounded, thinking: “Finally. Someone said it.” because I’ve been thinking about it for so long. And, looking back, it was also one of the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful things I’ve read in this book (see Quotable Quotes below for the whole quote).

Anxious People was a hodgepodge of things. I was really surprised at how well it worked and how brilliant Backman wrapped everything in the end. It was told in a roundabout way, like a guessing game, for the most part. I was honestly thrown off in the beginning with the way it was told, but in the end, it was better because of it. I loved how everything came full circle, 10x over at the very end.

…if you do it for long enough, it can become impossible to tell the difference between flying and falling.

Even from the very first two pages, where he wrote how difficult just being human is. How there is an “unbelievable amount of things that we’re all supposed to cope with these days“. When he said:

Sometimes it hurts, it really hurts, for no other reason than the fact that our skin doesn’t feel like it’s ours. Sometimes we panic, because the bills need paying and we have to be grown-up and we don’t know how, because it’s so horribly, desperately easy to fail at being grown up.

I immediately knew that this is going to be one memorable book. I love the way it was written. Simple and to the point. And then these heartbreaking ruminations will just hit you out of nowhere you’ll find it hard to breathe (happened to me). I just love this book so much. I’ve read a couple of reviews and they emphasized how funny this book was – and it is. But the things that really shone for me were all those moments where I would just stop reading and think about how true a certain sentence I’ve read. All these hard truths, presented in a random, off-hand manner – peppered throughout the stories of all these people. Because that is life. I guess I kind of got tired of reading about struggles that were written as if they were the center of that person’s life. In Anxious People, we see these characters learn to live with all these. For the very reason that they have no choice but to move on. That, at the end of the day, we are all just trying to get by.

There was a constant hum of emotion in this story – like it’s always teetering on the edges of funny and heartbreaking and funny. It was funny because it’s real. And it was heartbreaking because it IS real. And I loved how the whole vibe of this book is just… life in general: that it’s randomly funny and heartbreaking and intimidating and hopeful, all at once.

If I’m honest, it was on Chapters 69, 70 and 73 that I really fell apart. Especially Chapter 70. I literally full-on sobbed the moment I turned the pages to that chapter. I know I’m reviewing and recounting this book in a very personal manner… but aren’t those kinds of books the ones which stick? The ones which almost felt like they hold our lives in its pages? Yep. I am in love with this book. And I’ll probably be thinking about it for a very, very long time.

OVERALL

Anxious People is a very special book. And I can’t even begin to describe how much this book can matter to a person, at least to those who understand.

Perhaps, I could best summarize this book with this quote:

…and most people never become individuals to us. They’re just people. We’re just strangers passing each other, you anxieties briefly brushing against mine as the fibers of our coats touch momentarily on a crowded sidewalk somewhere. We never really know what we do to each other, with each other, for each other.

I’m glad I read it at the time I did. Isn’t it funny how some books just sort of ‘find’ you in the most perfect of times? Thank you for writing this wonderful gem, Fredrik Backman.

Additional note:

And so I leave you with this quote, which is probably one of the most beautiful messages this book has to offer:

We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance, sweetheart. We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to find a way to convince ourselves that that will just have to… be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning.

RATING

No way in hell am I not gonna give this a 5-star rating. I am now a fan!

QUOTABLE QUOTES

In the end you get exhausted from always tensing their skin around your ribs, never letting your shoulders sink, brushing along wall all your life with white knuckles, always afraid that someone will notice you, because no one’s supposed to do that.

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. Over time she realized that deep down almost everyone asks themselves the same sort of questions: Am I good? Generous and considerate? A decent shag? Does anyone want me to be their friend? Have I been a good parent? Am I a good person?

When he left her she wept so hard she couldn’t breathe. Her body was never really the same after that, she curled up and never quite unfurled again. “He was my echo. Everything I do is quieter now,” she said to the other women in the closet.

I mean…. ​😭​

That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s. […] It’s such an odd thing, the way you can know someone so perfectly through what they read.

The hardest thing about death is the grammar, the tense, […] That she used to do this, that she used to do that. She was, she is. She was Jim’s wide. Jack’s mom is dead. The grammar. That’s the worst thing of all.

“What are you goin to do from now on?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not knowing is a good place to start.”

They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. 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.

GET THE BOOK >> Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound | Fullybooked

About the Author

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, his first work of non-fiction, will be released in the US in May 2019. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

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Auditor by profession and a 'round-the-clock geek 🤓 from the 🇵🇭. I'm a coffee-holic INTJ with an unhealthy obsession with books and stationery. I word-vomit over at Twitter and posts book pics at Instagram: @pagesandcc . I also blog at https://pagesandcoffeecups.com/ .

5 thoughts on “Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

  1. I loved your review!! I really loved this book too – it really was perfect :’) totally agree with you said about the characters. I love how Backman made us care about and fall in love with each of them. This book will stay with me for a long time too.

    Liked by 2 people

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