Literary Fiction

Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

10 November 2020
Anxious People Book Cover Anxious People
Fredrik Backman
Literary Fiction
Michael Joseph
20 August 2020

The funny, touching and unpredictable new novel from the multi-million copy bestselling author of A Man Called Ove.

In a small town in Sweden it appears to be an ordinary day. But look more closely, and you'll see a mysterious masked figure approaching a bank... Two hours later, chaos has descended. A bungled attempted robbery has developed into a hostage situation - and the offender is refusing to communicate their demands to the police. Within the building, fear quickly turns to irritation for the seven strangers trapped inside. If this is to be their last day on earth, shouldn't it be a bit more dramatic? But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal mastermind holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are...


It is a unique reading experience with Fredrik Backman, and it often takes a few chapters to appreciate a special journey is underway. Sometimes the humour and dialogue feel unusual but once into the novel, his turn of phrase becomes entertaining and revealing of the characters.

Anxious People, like the stalled elevator scenario, poses characters that are trapped in a confined location, and as they settle in for a long wait, individual stories of different influences and choices that led them to that moment are intriguingly revealed. A past where backgrounds are unknowingly crossed sets up a future that will be altered over the next few hours. Each person will be compelled to change their relationships and the direction they were travelling.

I am always intrigued by the interpretations and perspectives different people can apply to the same situation. How perspectives can affect how we deal with incidents and how we harbour issues that shape how we deal with future events. Backman serves up compelling observations on human interactions and relationships with an edge of anticipation.

A bank robber attempts to hold-up a cashless bank for exactly six thousand five hundred kronor. The strange behaviour and apparent naivety foster a mystery and deeper anxiety for the bank robber. Even when the bank robber runs into an apartment during a viewing with an estate agent, and holds eight people hostage, our empathy remains with the bank robber. The personal stories unfold with great fascination and sentiment, and we often wonder what the central theme of the novel is.

“The truth? It’s hardly ever as complicated as we think. We just hope it is, because then we feel smarter if we can work it out in advance. This is a story about a bridge, and idiots, and a hostage drama and an apartment viewing. But it’s also a love story. Several, in fact.”

When all hostages are released, the police storm the apartment, but by then it is empty. The mystery is widened when the perspective of two detectives, father and son, Jim and Jack, are introduced and periodically told through their eyes. Each with their own private circumstances and motives that influence how they react.

There is a wonderful wordplay around the fact that this story is based in Sweden and the reference made to Stockholmers – a term formally used to name people from Stockholm, a derogatory term of idiots used by many Swedes outside Stockholm and very aptly a term used in association with a particular Syndrome. It is more than just a word; it is an expression more than it is a place.

Fredrik Backman has his own unique style and if variety appeals to you then slotting in a Backman book every now and again is a wonderful experience. He delivers the novel in an enthralling storytelling manner where he often talks directly to the reader and weaves humour with heartbreak.

I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Penguin Michael Joseph UK and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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