Reviewed by Phil
What is Anxious People about? Backman himself poses this question as he sets off on this delightful romp. At different times, he suggests the book is about a bank robbery, or a bunch of idiots. Or about a bridge. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about people and relationships. Father and son. Mother and children. Husband and wife. Simple mistakes and minor misunderstandings. Grudges and old hurts and missed opportunities and betrayal. But still more: It’s about love.
Backman quotes Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” The author returns to this theme throughout. This novel is his apple tree.
The story revolves around a group of people held hostage in an apartment after a bank robbery has gone wrong. There’s Roger and Anna-Lena, a tired old couple looking for an apartment to renovate. And there’s Julia, pregnant, and her partner, Ro. And Estelle, whose husband Knut has yet to turn up. And Lennart, who makes his first appearance dressed in an over-sized rabbit head with giant floppy ears. And then there’s Zara, the bank manager held hostage to a letter she has clung to, unopened, for ten years; a letter from a man who threw himself off a bridge after being denied a bank loan. And, of course, the real estate agent who has brought them all together to show the apartment.
Backman’s writing can seem irreverent and chaotic at times. But, slipped into that whirlwind of irreverence and chaos, there are moments of such profound beauty that you’re left gasping. His take on the responsibility of parenthood, for example, delivered as a one-liner fairly early on, and returned to on occasion as the story proceeds, is spot on. For people who enjoy Backman’s writing, Anxious People is his best yet.
Caution: Anxious People explores themes of death and suicide, and the effects these have on the people left behind. It is not for everyone.
Fredrik Backman’s previous novels include A Man Called Ove (2012) and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (2013). His books have been published in over forty countries. Backman lives with his wife and two children in Stockholm, Sweden.
Anxious People will be released in September 2020.