Book Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman’s writing first captured me with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and I’ve since read nearly all of his work and am equally enamored with each moving piece of fiction.

His latest novel, Anxious People, is due out September 8, 2020 from Atria. Net Galley and Atria provided me with an advanced copy such that I could review it, and I’m incredibly grateful they did. I was absolutely riveted, from the first page to the last.

A bank robber. An apartment showing. An act of desperation. These components combine to create the potential for chaos and have the capacity to change the life of every person involved.

Book Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I finished this novel within 24 hours of beginning it, and stayed up past midnight reading. It’s one of those rare novels where the plot and the characters are equally engaging and engrossing, where you simply must read just one more chapter, just one more page, just one more paragraph (or, if you’re like me, you tell yourself this is the last chapter for several in a row and only put it down when your eyelids start sticking together for want of sleep!).

From the first page, the plot is absolutely riveting. With increasingly higher stakes and a decreasing probability for ending well for all, the tension steadily builds as you try solve the mystery and hope for the best while fearing the worse. It’s a roller coaster ride of a novel, but incredibly well paced and thought provoking.

Told with a third person omniscient narrator, the story unfurls like a plume of smoke: it twists this way and that, flashes back and then returns to the present, and is interspersed with the police interviews of the hostages to both illuminate character’s inner workings and keep the reader engaged. The storytelling mastery is evident as the police interviews, which could easily be dull and dry, are just as absorbing as the hostage situation itself.

What drives someone to do something desperate? How can one act of tragedy spiderweb out and touch many lives? Does doing the wrong thing for the right reason change how wrong it is? Anxious People explores these and more moral quandaries, in a thought provoking but not laborious way. Though the subject matter is, in general, a bit heavy, it is told with care and delicacy. At the same time, the small bits of humor in everyday life are not lost and hold even more value in the events of the novel.

Fredrik Backman’s characters are always memorable, and this is no exception. From the bank robber to the real estate agent to the other hostages to the police officers, every character is thoroughly developed and their character is gradually revealed. We are reminded that each person we meet is the culmination of their experiences and desires of who they wish to be, and that each and every person we meet has their own unique motivations and stories that make up who they are. While jumping to conclusions is easy, it is worth listening a little longer to see if just perhaps someone is more than they seem.

Anxious People is one of those novels that will stay with you, long after you’ve finished it. It is one you’ll want to return to again and again, to look for clues you may have missed and subtle foreshadowing to further illuminate the events. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to going back and reading it again.


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