Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

One of the things I find most intimidating/discouraging about writing a book blog is that sometimes I read so very slowly. For instance, I am in the middle of two very good books that I have been reading since… December? At least? I’m not sure I can identify WHY some books are a slow burn for me while others ignite immediately. The books I tend to read quickly are often mysteries/thrillers – and I suppose it’s easy to understand the speed in that case: the books are designed to propel you along, what with mysterious secrets and cliffhanging chapter conclusions and the burning desire to know what happened. But it’s not always the case. I read Normal People (not a mystery or a thriller) in a day. And it took me seven days to read Anxious People, which is a mystery. (Well, sort of.) 

I was fretting about my varying reading speeds to a fellow avid reader the other day, and he said, “Why does it matter?” And, of course, it matters to no one at all but me and the blank expectant page of an unwritten blog post. We all read at the speeds we read, and it doesn’t matter at all as long as we’re reading the books we want to read, right? 

Well, I still find it curious. 

All that is to say that it took me longer than I’d hoped to finish Anxious People. At the beginning, I blamed the writing style. And indeed, that seemed to be the culprit: as soon as I’d adjusted to the style, I picked up momentum. It’s an excellent book. 

image from amazon.com

Mini Plot Summary: The book begins with a bank-robbery-turned-hostage situation. When the police give in to the bank robber/hostage taker’s demands and the hostages are finally released from the for-sale apartment where they have been held together, the bank robber/hostage taker has disappeared. Then, with alternating third-person perspectives (some in an interview format) of the various characters (the two police officers in charge of handling the hostage situation and its aftermath, the bank robber, and the hostages, plus maybe one or two additional characters), we learn the events leading up to the bank robbery, the backgrounds of the various characters, and what happened to the bank robber. This is a very vague summary, and yet I cannot go into more detail without spoiling things. 

What I Liked About this Book: I loved the characters and how the pacing of the chapters allowed us to slowly get to know them and understand their motivations. I liked how the author/translator dropped in these sentences that seemed to ring with wisdom and truth. I liked how a book ostensibly about a hostage situation was, in reality, a book about love: the love between parents and children, romantic love, the evolving love of a marriage. I liked the author’s romantic, optimistic views on marriage. I liked how the people in this book were, in the main, good. Kind, moral, compassionate, forgiving. I liked how things and people were very rarely what they seemed to be from the outset. I liked the arc of the plot. I liked the strong women throughout, main characters and secondary/tertiary characters alike. I liked the lighthearted humor. I liked how different from other books this book seemed to me. This may be a big stretch, and may be a connection that exists only in my own mind, but it reminded me of The Queen’s Gambit (the show, not the book, which I have not yet read). Characters who have real, heavy struggles, but who are lifted up by the genuine goodness of the people around them.

Do not fret – the red circle is digital, not ink.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: While it grew on me – and while I came to understand that it was essential to the plot – I did not care for the style. It was (necessarily) obfuscatory in a way that initially irritated me. I felt like I was walking through a crowded market with my glasses fogged up, which was unpleasant and disorienting. But I’d read that the book was worth the work, and, indeed, it was. 

Should You Read This Book? Oh yes, please read this book. Yes, there are dark subjects here – addiction and suicide among them. But it is a lovely, tender book that treats these subjects with compassion and hope. Plus, the “mystery,” though fairly easy to unravel (which is not to say there aren’t genuine surprises!), is lighthearted. And the characters are just… dear, lovely people. 

I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. 

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