A review by Annabelle Lee
Anxious People is the newest release by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, best known for his novel A Man Called Ove. In many ways, Anxious People is a simple story of a botched bank robbery, which accidentally becomes a hostage situation. And yet, Anxious People is so much more. As the story unfolds, we are taken back over the situation from differing perspectives, through the eyes of the bank robber, the police, and several of the hostages. Along the way we discover who each of these people are, and what has lead them here.
Anxious People isn’t a title that grabbed me but my enjoyment of Backman’s previous work compelled me to give this a shot. Oh boy, I am so glad that I did. What a treat. True to form, Backman has delivered a novel jam packed full of quick and sharp humour, incredible insight into the human experience, complex and engaging characters and such beautiful wisdom. I stopped several times while reading, wanting to fully absorb the truths he lays bare. Saying it like that sounds like this book is heavy, but it is anything but. It is engaging right from the start, and funny. It’s light hearted presentation is exactly why the deep insights land so well.
The book is presented in the voice of a third person narrator, and the result is wonderful. Backman cuts to the heart of his characters, poking fun at their quirks and holding them through their pain. He uses this voice to question even the subject of the story, “this story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots”. It starts by telling the story quickly and as it progresses, he goes back to fill in the gaps and explore the motivations of each character. This leads to a series of twists and turns so that the reader, despite thinking you know what is happening, learns details along the way that turn everything on its head.
It’s important for some readers to be aware that this story contains strong and recurring themes of suicide. Backman writes in his authors acknowledgements to a friend who died by suicide 20 years ago, and it is clear his own grief experience has informed this story. He looks at the ripple effect suicide can have on others throughout their lifetimes, the way it can isolate but also connect. Through his characters he turns to face the issue head on, and seeks to understand it with dignity, grace and most importantly, hope.
Anxious People is a simple story told with astounding complexity. It is a witty and clever crime story on one level, and yet somehow becomes an honest examination of the griefs so entwined with modern life. Backman cracks open his subjects from 2D caricatures to nuanced, intricate humans anyone could relate to. The experience of reading is to be entertained but to walk away knowing more about the world and more about yourself. If I could give this book more than 5 stars, I would. Anxious People might just be the best thing to come out of 2020.
Annabelle’s review of The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared is over here.
Anxious People is competing with bushfires, firenadoes, a record-breaking (for Canberra) hail storm, floods, and a pandemic. Admittedly it is also competing with some damn fine novels and some EPIC podcasts so… hmmm… – Editor
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Category: humor, crime & mystery, sucide