Author: Fredrik Backman
Translated from Swedish by: Neil Smith
Genre: Humorous Fiction
Failing to rob a cashless bank, an inept bank robber unexpectedly segues into a hostage-taker at an apartment Open House. As the prospective buyers inside the apartment and the police-officers outside it become unwitting players in the ‘breaking news’ drama, webs of existing conflicts re-shape themselves to confront the bizarre situation.
Frederik Backman’s newest book, ‘Anxious People’ is humorous fiction in his witty, incisive style. Foibles of ordinary human beings struggling with everyday situations are funny and moving at the same time. There is not one story, but a dozen different stories twisting, turning, and challenging social stereotypes, inviting a subtly altered perspective as the motley collection of people at the apartment viewing become reluctant allies.
Through hilarious witness statements and events in the apartment, readers become familiar with the ‘Anxious People’ and the anxieties they carry around like a second skin. Retired couple, Roger and Anna-Lena, continually apartment-hunting, renovating and flipping, are hiding from an obvious truth. Young couple, Julia and Ro, expecting their first child, are navigating around endless disagreements. Wealthy, bored and supercilious, middle-aged banker Zara is obsessively drawn to certain apartment viewings, with a single objective. Elderly Estelle is surprisingly cheerful and chatty in the tense environment. The bank robber, whose life has been upended by a double betrayal, is easily the most anxious of them all.
Backman is a skilled storyteller and sensitive observer, gradually releasing the various backstories of his characters’ struggles with impeccable timing. And even while laughing often, it is easy to identify with the wide range of subtle emotions engendered by situations both commonplace and extraordinary. The surprises in every chapter come from gently challenging pre-conceived notions and ultimately the various threads from the past are neatly drawn in to forge new relationships and novel solutions.
Certain sections of the book do tend to ‘drag’, suffering from repetitious preachiness, but the refreshing humor and sensitive portrayals more than compensate for the parts lacking crispness. Readers who enjoyed Backman’s ‘A Man Called Ove’ will enjoy his signature style as he shines a light on the idiosyncrasies of ordinary people, elevating them from the conventional to the complex. His deceptive simplicity and a methodical attention to detail may not hold the interest of readers looking for fast-moving plot and action, but anyone who enjoys reflecting on what makes people ‘tick’ will be rewarded with an immensely entertaining and engaging read.