Anxious People [Book Review]

September 11, 2020

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (cover) Image: a man and woman stand with backs to the camera on a balcony looking into the distance

Genre/Categories: Contemporary Literary Fiction, Closed Door Mystery, Humor

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


Anxious People is the story of a bank robber and a group of hostages at an open house…a bunch of idiots, really (in the most endearing sense of the word). But the real story behind the circumstances is about a bridge and so much more.

My Thoughts:

TL; DR: Don’t miss this one! 5 Stars!

“We do our best. We save those we can.”

I’ve been waiting all year for this! Fredrik Backman is one of my auto-buy authors and my preordered e-copy of Anxious People was waiting for me on last Tuesday’s pub day. And yes, I read it in one day.

One of the joys of reading Backman is discovering the unique world and the quirky people he creates in each book. This one is about idiots! And bridges.

“Bridges exist to bring people closer together,” he said.

There’s always a bit of trepidation when reading a highly anticipated book! Expectations can affect the reading experience.

Pace: I admit that I was nervous because I had a wee bit of difficulty getting into Anxious People at first. However, then I relaxed when I reminded myself I was in the expert hands of a brilliant author and master storyteller! In my reading experience, the second half of the book is the most compelling. Backman is skilled at constructing complex situations and creating complicated characters. There’s a big payoff in the second half of the book when the stage is fully set.

Writing: I read Backman’s books carefully because there are no wasted words. Every sentence or phrase has a purpose. In Anxious People, we find whimsy, compelling metaphors, unique turns of phrases, intricate storytelling, humor, sincerity, and seriousness. I love that the format includes police interviews. I also appreciate the subtle revelations and the gentle way the story unfolds.

Characters: I admire the tenderness and care that Backman exhibits in developing ordinary yet quirky characters that are highly relatable and extraordinarily human. Anxious People includes a colorful cast of characters and the story is heavily character-driven. Although all his stories are different, one common element is his brilliant ability to create unforgettable characters. In Anxious People, we have a group of hostages who begin as strangers and end up bonded in a unique way.

“We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance. We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to find a way to convince ourselves that that will just have to….be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning.”

Plot: Even though the story is character-driven, there is a mystery to be solved which enhances the page-turning aspect of the story. In the end, there are connections made between some of the characters but I can’t give spoilers here!

Themes: If you’ve read Backman’s books, you know that he reflects on serious and thoughtful themes. A few of the themes in Anxious People include how difficult it is to keep on living sometimes, father/son interactions, making mistakes, second chances, grace, compassion, friendship, regrets, consumerism, competition, desperation, connection, anxiety, hope, family, doing our best, and sacrifice. One thing that Backman mentions in the Author’s Acknowledgments is that he has regret over a friend’s suicide twenty years ago, and I can see how this drives the important themes of the story.

The truth? The truth about all this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things, but most of all about idiots. Because we’re doing the best we can, we really are. We’re trying to be gown-up and love each other and understand how the hell you’re supposed to insert USB leads. We’re looking for something to cling on to, something to fight for, something to look forward to. We’re doing all we can to teach our children how to swim. We have all of this in common, yet most of us remain strangers, we never know what we do to each other, how your life is affected by mine.”

TW: reference to a suicide and suicidal thoughts

Recommended: Anxious People is a quirky and heartfelt story that I’m highly recommending for all readers who love literary fiction. Fans of character-driven stories and thoughtful, reflective themes will love Backman’s newest release! Book clubs will also enjoy all the discussion possibilities in this one!

***Edited to add: Don’t miss the Netflix movie adaptation!

Related: Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, Beartown, Us Against You, The Deal of a Lifetime, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, TTT: Ten Reasons I’m Thankful For a Favorite Author (Backman)

My Rating:  5 Stars


Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (cover) Image: a man and woman stand against a railing with backs to the camera

Anxious People Information

Meet the Author, Fredrik Backman

Author Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, and two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime, as well as one work of nonfiction, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. His books are published in more than forty countries. His next novel, Anxious People, will be published in September 2020. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter @BackmanLand or on Instagram @Backmansk.


Is Anxious People on your TBR or have you read it?

Have you read other Backman titles? Favorite?

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  1. Wonderful review Carol. I have this book to read and I hope to get to it this week. Your review captures Backman’s style to the tea. I have loved all of his books, but I think my favourite is still Ove, because he reminds me so much of my husband, he was so crotchety.

  2. So fascinated by the reviews of this book, Carol. They are all over the place. I listened to Sarah’s Bookshelves Patreon feed this morning, and she DNF’d it. I loved Ove, didn’t read the Beartown series, but I think I’ll try this one from the library.

    • Well….what I love about Backman is wondering where In The world his mind will take us!!! I had a little trouble getting into this one but his writing always carries the day! It’s a bit stream of consciousness in the beginning…but the latter half is compelling! I had a feeling while reading this that it was personally important to him. I’d definitely say give it a try Debi!

  3. Like you Carol I’ve been waiting all year for this book. Backman is my favourite author. The only reason I’ve not yet read it is that I’m holding on to the anticipation. Will break down and read it before this month ends though. Lovely review.

    • Ha! I admire your self control! At first I had a little trouble getting into it but then I remember the author and relaxed! It takes a while to meet all the characters. Enjoy!

    • The beginning takes a bit to get into but by 40% I was fully engages and couldn’t put it down. An interesting combo of comedy, mystery, and serious themes.

  4. I just finished this one last night and ALSO had real trouble getting into it. I don’t think I loved it quite as much as you did, but I appreciated the interconnectedness of everything, the isolation/connection motif. It was compelling.

    • Yeah it was difficult getting into it with all the characters! I’ve just learned to trust Backman! He always has something great to say!

      • There were a lot of characters, but I was more put off by the chapters being self-contained stories that shifted at the final line. Yes, they connected, too, but they could be self-contained. A purposeful technique as it unfolded. It was my first Backman, so I only knew him by reputation and chose to believe in the understanding of the reading community. But, as I was reading it, I had a friend tell me she was reading another one of his and was sending it to me because she was so sure I’d enjoy it.

  5. […] Favorite author has got to be Fredrik Backman! I’m a completist and have read all his work. Here are a few Backman related posts: Reasons I’m Thankful For a Favorite Author, Beartown and Us Against You, The Deal of a Lifetime, Things My Sons Needs to Know About the World, Anxious People. […]

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