Audiobook mini-review: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Genre: contemporary literary fiction
My rating: 5/5 stars

When I picked up this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect from it–a lot of popular titles kind of miss the mark for me, so perhaps my wariness was justified. But let me tell you: this one COMPLETELY lives up to the hype. This narrative is warm, wise, and witty, alternating emotional sucker-punches with laugh-out-loud commentary on the ridiculousness modern life, and it is one of my favorite reads of this year so far.

The Plot

It’s really hard to summarize this one. The narrative structure is unconventional, bouncing between multiple points in the story’s timeline, and too much summary would spoil the delight of piecing together the details of the story. But here’s what I can tell you: this is a story about, among other things: a hostage drama, a bank robbery, a bridge, a police investigation, and, perhaps most significantly, idiots. When a robbery goes wrong, a hapless bank robber ends up accidentally taking hostage the attendees of an apartment viewing. The thing is, these people are pretty much the worst hostages ever. What starts as a potentially high-stakes situation slowly shifts into a series of unexpected friendships, and when two police officers begin to investigate the case…well, clearly some of these hostages are not telling the truth about what really went down in that apartment.

Trigger/content warnings: suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction, death of a partner

Review

Per usual, this audiobook review is written in bullet points, because reasons:

  • The uncommon timeline of the story could have been difficult, but it looped around in such a way that it was always easy to follow and ended up being fully immersive.
  • These characters! They’re all flawed, none are completely likable, but all of them are sympathetic and well-rounded. Even the police investigators, who could have easily become antagonist characters, instead are just as relatable as all the hostages and the robber.
  • This book tackled a lot of big issues–suicide, anxiety, inherent unfairness of the banking industry, assumptions of gender norms–alongside small issues like the meaning of family, the importance of forgiveness, and how to keep love in a relationship. They were all handled bluntly yet delicately, not shying away from ugly truths but also incorporating the necessary nuance. Is that statement a contradiction? Yes, but this book is full of wonderful contradictions that further bring it to life.
  • On a related note, he manages to turn this absurd situation into a microcosm of our reality, distilling modern anxieties and themes into this group of quirky strangers. Like…how does someone come up with such a cool concept?
  • Backman’s writing is fantastic, with clever turns of phrase and keen emotional awareness. Every sentence was a delight.
  • The audiobook narration managed to capture all the shifts in tone, from warm to dry, and to personify the characters with voices that were distinct but never quite veering into caricature territory.

It’s really hard to sum up everything I loved about this book, but honestly, I would be hard-pressed to find anything in it to actually complain about. It’s one you just have to experience for yourself. This was my first Backman book, but certainly will not be my last.

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