Sally Flint

Book Review of Fredrik Backman's Anxious People

Fredrik Backman never fails to put a fail good message across. In Anxious People he does so with quite a complicated plot.

Fredrik Backman’s¬†Anxious People¬†is a thought provoking book, with overall an uplifting and feel good vibe. It encourages us to be kind and reflect on what really matters in life. The plot is clearly thought out and effectively executed. The way all the loose ends are tied up at the end is incredibly well done. Bravo Fredrik!

The driving force of the plot of Anxious People is a failed bank robbery, which inadvertently turns into something of a farcical hostage situation. The bank robber, running from the scene of the crime, that never happened, ends up in an apartment where eight prospective buyers are being shown round by an estate agent. They inadvertently find themselves in a siege situation, being held by the hapless bank robber who had no plans to take anyone hostage.

There follows an exploration of the emotions, hopes, dreams, losses and achievements of the different characters lives. Flaws are revealed, conversations are held, histories are shared and, above all, the fundamental need for connection between humans is illustrated.

Bring in a father/son police officer duo into the action and a whole extra dimension to the story is added.¬† The scene is¬† set for a fully-fledged crime drama with a heavy dosage of irony, humour and pathos. The blurb on the back of Fredrik Backman’s¬†Anxious People¬†suggests that this is a restorative book that reminds the readers of the good in humanity. In this way, it is almost interchangeable with¬†A Man Called Ove.¬†

Backman comments on how many of the jokes are lost in the translation of this book from Swedish to English. I don’t easily laugh out loud so for me, that’s no problem. The dominant tone is probably one of pathos that is enjoyable to read. As a writer Backman reminds me quite a bit of Matt Haig. I would put¬†Anxious People¬†in exactly the same genre as¬†The Midnight Library. Both texts are poignant reminders that despite the mistakes we make along the way, life is precious and every moment needs to be valued.

Book Discussion Questions on Fredrik Backman's Anxious People

Fredrik Bakman's writes in Swedish and says the jokes are often lost in translatation. My friend said she laughed out loud frequently when reading Anxious People.
  • Which of the hostages’ personal stories resonated most strongly with you and why?
  • At what point in Anxious People did you realize that the bank robber was female? What does this reveal to you about Fredrik Backman as a writer? You may also wish to explore what it reveals about your own subconscious biases.
  • Did you find any of the characters dislikeable or immensely irritating? Discuss who and why?
  • Which of the characters in Anxious People are more similar than they realize? Discuss why you think this.
  • Which of the characters did you liken yourself most to? Discuss. If you feel comfortable discuss which characters you likened other members of your book group to.
  • In Anxious People, the narrative voice is quite didactic while claiming an over familiar¬†intimacy with the reader. Do you agree with this statement? Why, or why not?
  • Discuss the significance of the therapy sessions between Zara and the psychologist. “What does it reveal¬†about both characters and what does this reveal about the human condition?¬†
  • The relationship between the two police officers is largely defined in relationship to the characters’ deceased wife/mother. Discuss how this has affected their relationship. Which of the two officers do you have most compassion towards and why?
  • Anxious People¬†is as much an exploration of modern capitalist society as it is a book about people. Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with this statement.

Book Discussion Questions on Anxious People (if you haven't read the book!)

  • The human condition is a term that is often used in relation to texts that are largely exploring character. What does the human condition mean to you?
  • How do you think you would react if you found yourself in a hostage situation with a very nervous kidnapper?
  • Fredrik Backman¬†encourages the reader to feel empathy for all the people in¬†Anxious People. How empathetic a person do you feel yourself to be? Do you have examples to support your belief?
  • The police officers’ wife/mother had a religious faith that didn’t stop her telling bawdy jokes and that she didn’t lose when faced with an early death. Do you have a religious faith? How strong is it and from where did it orignate?¬†Have a conversation about religious belief if you feel comfortable doing so.
  • To what extent do you feel that the corporate world of banking is responsible for problems in today’s society.?
  • Anxious People¬†shows how easily people, through no fault of their own, can fall into poverty and homelessness. If you are comfortable doing so, discuss any adversity that you have overcome.
  • What parts of Fredrik Backman’s¬†Anxious¬†People¬†did you find particularly amusing? What parts¬†of the story did you find particularly sad? Was there an overlap? Discuss how humour can help in even the bleakest of scenarios.

Personal Response to Fredrik Backman's Anxious People

For me it is the vulnerability and fragility of human life that stands out in Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People. It is a book I’d definitely recommend. There was, though, one aspect of the writing style that I couldn’t reconcile myself to. A key theme of the book is to show that we shouldn’t be judgemental and that we need to understand the backstory of an individual to really understand them. That’s great and I adhere to it, yet I found the narrative style constantly judging those who judge! I found the discourse slightly patronizing and just a little bit supercilious. I haven’t explained that well and maybe I’m being unfair. My friend who loaned me the book felt  that the narrative is simply a commentary, not a judgement. I’m not sure who’s right. Either way, I wouldn’t let that stop you reading the book and deciding for yourself. If you need a lift, Anxious People is probably a great choice for you.

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