Book Review for “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman.
Summary: “Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths. … As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.”
Age: Adult; Setting: Contemporary; Genres: Literary, Humor, Fiction; Other: Novel, Translation, 2020.
Let me get this out of the way to begin with: I totally loved this book! Yes, once again, Backman made me laugh and made me cry; what more can I ask for, right? In truth, I started giggling and guffawing within the first few pages, and then he goes and makes me say “aw… bless” and nod my head in understanding and sympathy for what these people represent, and how they live – both with themselves and with others. I only wonder if I should be calling this a masterpiece or not, because, well, Backman seems to be able to do this with all of his books. And frankly, except for one, teeny-tiny niggle, this book was practically perfect in every way.
Yes, I just said that – this book isn’t 100% perfect, in all honesty. And let’s face it, we book reviewers have to be honest, even when we’re reading a book by a beloved author. So, what was my problem here? It really isn’t a big deal but… I kind of felt that the ending was a bit more drawn out than it needed to be. There was a point very close to the end when I read one closing sentence to one chapter and was ready to say… WOW right then and there, but then it continued on a bit longer. Not that I didn’t “wow” several times while reading this book, but that real punchy, short sentence (sorry, no spoilers) that concluded that chapter would have been a truly perfect ending. The thing is, I still enjoyed everything that came afterwards. This means that I’m also thinking that if the editors had put that chapter at the very end, then this absolutely would have been a perfect book. But hey, we’re all human right, and obviously, other readers might disagree with me.
Now with all that out of the way, I’ll tell you what I really loved about this book (while trying not to be overly effusive, if I can). First and foremost, I love how Backman is such a keen observer of the human condition, and is able to present this to his readers with such wit and empathy. Here we have a cast of characters who, under normal circumstances, might never have found themselves together in the same space. Backman knows who these people are; he knows their pasts, and he knows their strengths and their weaknesses. Then he throws them all together into one unusual situation, and then begins to deconstruct each of them, and then begin the process of reconstructing them as they go through this hostage situation. I got the distinct feeling that before Backman started writing the story, he probably already had a slew of well-developed characters and he then went through them and decided which combination of them would best serve this story.
Obviously, taking a bunch of random characters and sticking them into a viewing of an apartment for sale, and then turning them all into hostages wasn’t enough for him. No, Backman had to also connect some of them to make it all the more interesting (and no, I’m not going to reveal how they connect, because… spoilers). To do this, Backman uses the two police officers called to the scene, as well as a few other minor characters who help with filling in the more important blanks for the more prominent characters’ backstories. Now, because the main action here is relatively sparse, Backman uses these many personalities and connection in order to give us a truly multi-faceted, character driven story. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a book where people will say “but… nothing happened” (which is one of the most annoying comments about a book, EVER), because lots happens. Its just that the action is very contained so that Backman can concentrate on drawing these flawed people who make us laugh and cry.
Look, I don’t know if there’s much point in my saying much more here. I’ve already said I loved this book, and I believe that this one might even be his best yet. I can’t see readers calling this slow, because it is spritely from the start. I also can’t see how readers will be unable to connect with at least one or two of the large cast of characters. Nor can I see readers getting confused by having so many people to keep track of; my regular readers know that this has been a problem for me in other novels, but that just wasn’t the case here at all. Each and every personality is unique, and their voices are all clearly their own – as if Backman just recorded what they said to him. If all of this doesn’t deserve a full five stars out of five, I just don’t know what does! (My little niggle noted above would only reduce my rating by maybe 1/8th of a star, at most.) Just read this book; you won’t regret it and it might even calm you down!
This is where you put the stars.
Atria Books released “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman on September 8, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.