Book Review: Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrik Backman (Five Stars)

Book Review: Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrik Backman, Translated by Neil Smith (Five Stars)

This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that.

Extraordinary. The best book I’ve read this year. After fifty pages I was ready to quit. The disorganization and the despair override the snarky humor. Multiple confusing timelines require close attention from the reader. The true-to-life, if over the top, characterization of the cast suggests order will eventually emerge from the chaos.

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.

Having read and enjoyed several other Backman stories (and given this story’s favorable reviews), the reader stumbles forward hoping for a cogent, if not happy, resolution. This story is about suicides, how they come about; how they ripple through those around. Even—especially those on the scene. For some, this story will dull the edge; for others, it may hone it.

Zara wrinkled her nose.
“Do you believe that?”

Quibbles: Idiosyncratic paragraphing often leaves the reader wondering who spoke or acted. Backman seems not to know what policing, estate sales, and banking are all about—especially banking. (Things may be different in Sweden than the rest of the world.) Hard to believe an apartment building large enough to warrant an elevator has only one door.

When you’re a child you long to be an adult and decide everything for yourself, but when you’re an adult you realize that’s the worst part of it.

But Backman does understand people—police, real estate agents, and bankers. Especially Stockholmers. (Or whoever Stockholmers are a metaphor for in your country.) No, not that kind, the other. Speaking of which, Backman handles issues of suicide, lifestyle and gender with subtlety and sympathy. (Except for his insensitive use of the word idiots, but then ….)

The bank robber was left alone in the hall, clutching the pistol and muttering quietly: “Worst hostages ever. You’re the worst hostages ever.”