Book Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People

I discovered Fredrik Backman the way most people did, through A Man Called Ove. I read it mostly because of the hype, but absolutely fell in love with it. If I had one criticism of that book, however, it would be Backman’s unconventional choice of organization, as he spends much time jumping from modern to twenty years ago to modern to ten years ago. I remember when I first started the book, this lack of chronological order made it difficult for me to get into. But I did, and I still love that book. Long story short, I just found out he was coming out with a new book (well, he came out with it last year, but it was only now translated into English), I had to pick it up. And this book definitely has a unique organization too.

Release: April 2019 (Sep. 8, 2020 in English)

Page Count: 352

Format: Audiobook

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) “This is a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.”

There once was a bank robber who got caught in a hostage situation during an open house of an apartment. That is this story, and yet it isn’t. This book examines human flaws and anxieties, about the future and about the past. The police officer who failed to save a man from jumping off a bridge as a child. The woman who visits a psychologist because she can’t sleep. And the bank robber who never wanted to be a bank robber and is quite bad at being one, in fact.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book is foremost an examination of human anxiety, thus the title, but it takes an exaggerated, humorous view of the characters, making them seem less real though thoroughly developed. It has a perfect balance between humor and seriousness, which I find to be a common theme in all of Backman’s books. My one main criticism of this book is that it jumps around a lot, and even then rarely gives the full context of the flashbacks. By the end of the book, so many little scenes didn’t seem necessary within the bigger picture. Saying that, it does an effective job at creating a tone of anxiety, with both its jumping around, eccentric characters, and short chapters.

The book’s format kind of follows this. The police question each person about the hostage situation and where the bank robber went. As we meet each character, we flashback to different parts of their lives as well as inside the hostage situation from earlier. So there are kind of three timelines being followed, and the flashback of each character is set during all different years and presented to us in different ways. We might get a character telling us about their past (either to the police or to other characters in the apartment), or we might get a narration about their history (like we get with the father and son police officers investigating the case). Honestly, if you were confused just reading this paragraph, imagine how I was reading the book.

Saying that, I thought about it after I finished the book, and I wonder if that’s exactly what Backman was trying to do. To make us feel confused and disconcerted by everything that was happening, because that is rather what life is, after all. Life is confusing and scary and complicated.

From a logical cohesion outlook, I didn’t like the organization of this book. It had too many plotholes. However, I did appreciate and enjoy what Backman was trying to achieve.

I am going to do a very short spoiler section, but if you are curious to read the book, I would highly recommend just skipping over the next paragraph.

Spoilers Ahead!

So, the bank robber turns out to be a woman just trying to get money from the bank who refused to lend her money before to pay her rent after a messy divorce. All the people in the apartment, including the father police officer, decide to help her escape. While this definitely fits with the feel and humor of this book, I did think the ending turned out almost too perfectly. Like if one thing went wrong, everything would come apart. On one hand, this book felt like it was trying to achieve a semi-ridiculous realism, but on the other hand, it lacked any realism at all.

In conclusion, I was really torn about my thoughts concerning this book. Objectively, I found the organization highly flawed, but I also found the story sweet and meaningful. I ended up giving in 3 stars on Goodreads, though I have already gone back twice and switched it back and forth from 3 and 4 stars.

Have any of you read this book? I’d be curious to know your thoughts. And if you haven’t read it, does it look like something you would like to read? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

19 thoughts on “Book Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

  1. I had some mixed feelings about this book too. I listened to it on audible so that may have changed the experience somewhat. I did feel a little annoyed by some of the characters at first and the time-hopping got confusing. I felt this was going to be a 3 star book until finally the last 1/3 of it tied everything up so well that I decided to round up to a 4 star (out of 5). I did slightly prefer “A Man Called Ove” and I’m thinking of reading his Beartown books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Found it entertaining, some insightful passages, but much preferred Ove, and Brit-Marie Was Here. This was too dis-jointed for my taste. Skimmed second half and that worked.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I cannot believe all the negative comments about this book. 5 pages in and I’m hooked. Yes, the characters were “idiots” but aren’t we all at some time? And yet good can come out of a bad situation. I felt much more hopeful than I have for some time about the human race. I so hope they turn this into a movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, yep. I’m glad you enjoyed the book! I definitely didn’t give it a negative review (I did give it three stars out of five), but I can both understand the weaknesses of this book and the strengths. All readers are entitled to like it or dislike it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned it into a movie.


  4. I did not like this book. I have read Backman’s A Man Called Ove and enjoyed it and recommended Anxious People to my Book Club. This novel, however, did not meet any of our expectations! His attempt at humor, his unrealistic characters and his ill-conceived plotlines, along with drawn-out, nonsensical dialogue was hard to read. I was so looking forward to a sit down with a warm, comforting book and instead found disorganized material and profound disappointment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I pre-ordered this book because I really love Frederick Backman’s other books. But I finally quit after about the fourth or fifth police interview because I just didn’t care anymore. I thought it was a hot mess. I don’t need to feel more anxious. I would not recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I can see why you would have issues getting into the story, because it is a bit of a mess, especially in the beginning. While I didn’t dislike it that much (I gave it 3 out of 5 stars), it is my least favorite Backman book I have read so far. I understood what he was trying to achieve, but like you, I felt anxious reading it.


      1. I totally agree. This is my least favorite Backman book by far, and I had to convince myself to slog through it. I loved Ove and My Grandmother Told Me to tell You She’s Sorry! This one was very disjointed and incomplete, and it did make me anxious.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s such a good writer! Even the books I have mixed feelings about by him I enjoy, and all the rest are exceptional. I haven’t read “My Grandmother Told Me…” though. Definitely someday.


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