In his signature style, the internationally renowned Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, brings us another home run with “Anxious People”. Published in 2020, this paean to human vulnerability and empathy artfully highlights the intricacies of human emotions and relationships, exploring the deepest seams of human sorrow, hilarity and redemption. With an unwavering wit and candor, Backman invites us into the lives of eight strangers who inadvertently end up as hostages in an extraordinary situation, examining how even in the midst of our vulnerabilities and imperfections, we remain innately bonded by our shared humanity.
The overarching narrative of the novel could not be more apropos for the present milieu of global anxiety and strife. Embroiled in existential crises, wars, man-made disasters and a pervasive sense of ennui that seems to be seeping into our very consciousness, we are a society teetering on the brink of a collective nervous breakdown. In this world, where we are confronted daily with the fragility of life, the uncertainties of the future and the sheer fragility of human existence, “Anxious People” offers us an essential refuge, a quiet space wherein one can revisit the lost art of being kind to oneself and others.
At the heart of “Anxious People” is a host of characters, each with their own anxieties, flaws and emotional baggage, thrown together in the most unlikely of situations. The story follows a failed bank robber, who inadvertently stumbles into an apartment viewing and accidentally takes a group of anxious house-hunters hostage. Part crime drama, part mystery thriller, and part philosophical meditation on human emotions, the novel intricately weaves dark humor with whimsical observations of life to create a multidimensional, engrossing reading experience. The protagonists – an elderly woman who despises almost all of humanity, a first-time apartment buyer, a bickering couple, a pregnant woman, an introverted retired teacher and a young couple – represent a microcosm of society, their stories and predicaments reminiscent of the tumultuous nature of our own lives.
Backman’s vivid portrayal of his characters is one of the novel’s greatest strengths. Though initially introduced as mere caricatures or comedic stock characters, each individual possesses a story that is revealed layer by layer, like an onion being peeled back. As the narrative evolves and the hostages grow closer together, we see how each of their lives is shaped by their fears and anxieties. To see these diverse individuals come together, despite their stark differences, is to witness the warm embrace of human empathy at work.
A key factor that contributes to the novel’s unparalleled charm is the author’s expert use of dialogue and internal monologues. Backman displays an uncanny ability to craft his words and sentences with precision and wit. Through these conversations and inner thoughts, we get a glimpse into the minds of the characters and begin to understand their deepest anxieties and concerns. The author also occasionally breaks the fourth wall, engaging with the reader directly to emphasize a point or provide an amused commentary. This technique adds another layer to the narrative by creating a sense of intimacy with the reader, a sense that we are privy to the characters’ innermost thoughts and emotions.
As the story unfolds, it also reveals a keen interest in the complex dynamics between parents and children. It is no coincidence that Backman’s previous works, such as “A Man Called Ove,” “Britt-Marie Was Here,” and “Beartown,” also place a strong emphasis on the generational relationships that shape human existence. In “Anxious People,” the relationship between a police officer and his son underscores the narrative, while the stories of the other protagonists reveal their similarities – be it overprotective mothers or broken families dealing with clandestine hurts. These shared experiences serve as threads that bind the characters together, offering them solace in the knowledge that they are not alone in their battles.
The novel’s climax could not be more fitting, as we travel back in time to explore the various circumstances that led each of the characters into the hostage situation. Through this exploration, Backman encourages readers to reconsider their preconceived notions about life and human relationships, encapsulating the novel’s theme of understanding and empathy for others.
There are times however, when “Anxious People” might feel a tad too didactic, with the narration turning towards the philosophical and sentimental. It could be argued that the need for subtlety is sometimes overlooked in favor of delivering life lessons, leaving the reader relatively overwhelmed. Furthermore, the novel’s pace fluctuates, with sections marred by excessive prose, which could lead to an uneven reading experience.
Despite these setbacks, “Anxious People” remains a testament to the inexplicable beauty of human connection and empathy. It serves as an affecting reminder that our anxieties – despite being deeply personal and subjective – are the very reason we can come together and find solace in one another. Through this unexpected convergence of lives, Fredrik Backman has managed to craft a tale filled with moments of resonant truth that compel us to look inwards and reflect on our own emotional struggles, and consider the invisible stories of the so-called ‘strangers’ around us.
In conclusion, Fredrik Backman’s “Anxious People” is a masterful exploration of the intricate, anxious nature of human emotions and relationships. As we journey through the lives of eight hostage-takers and reflect upon their fears, hopes and desires, we find ourselves understanding the very essence of empathy and its capacity to bring people together in the most unexpected of ways. Through dark humor, eloquent prose and engaging storytelling, this novel offers us a much-needed sanctuary in these uncertain times. It encourages us to look beyond our own suffering and extend a hand of compassion to others, as we recognize that we are all, in a way, anxious people – but perhaps that is not the worst thing in the world, after all.