Book review: Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People is a Raw and Riveting Take on Human Nature

Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People will remind you of our shrinking threshold for anything that does not pass the vibe check, writes Sapna Nair.

A diverse set of prospective home buyers is held hostage by a bank robber and eventually freed, literally and figuratively. Literally because they walk out seemingly unscathed and happy, and figuratively as though transformed by the cathartic experience.

At the end of the ordeal (or the lack thereof) some unusual yet meaningful friendships are forged, demons battled, and truths confronted. There are several moments of deep introspection in the book, not just for the characters but for the reader, too.

In a world where headlines are increasingly dystopian, Anxious People is a heartwarming escape. At the end of 390 pages, even the most cynical reader will break into a smile, for it promises unadulterated moments of animosity that turned into affection, anxiety that evaporated into comfort, and apathy that gave way to concern.

The author’s evocative descriptions of situations, the bizarre yet relatable metaphors, and the raw display of human emotions really stood out for me. I was able to visualise every scene and sometimes caught myself mimicking the characters’ expressions.

“The policeman clenches his teeth so hard that he looks like he’s trying to breathe through his toenails.” After laughing at the absurdity of this, I did, admittedly, imitate the said policeman. Then there are lines like these that make your heart smile: “We give those we love nicknames, because love requires a word that belongs to us alone.”

You feel for the bank robber, who is constantly berated by the hostages for being incompetent, for the old woman who is trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to get over grief, for the banker who is as elitist as she is acerbic (possibly the most complex character), and for the policemen who are torn between duty and kindness.

On several occasions, I was spellbound by how in just one stroke the author summed up characters and nudged you to ponder why they are how they are. Here is a bit about Estelle, the oldest in the group of hostages: “…she seemed to be such a kind person that if she were murdered, she’d probably have taken it as a compliment that someone had noticed her.” And the most acrimonious one among them is described like this: “Zara looked like someone who smoked, not because she liked it so much as to make the air worse for other people.”

Some parts of the book read like endearing lessons in kindness and empathy. The author delves into death, suicide, as well as the overwhelming anxieties of life, deftly displacing sorrow with solace. In a strange way, the book will remind you of our shrinking threshold for anything that does not pass the vibe check. Don’t we bury our heads in books or pretend-snooze so as not to small-talk with co-passengers in the train or flight? (Guilty!)

Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People takes you through the entire gamut of emotions. You will laugh out loud, be surprised at the unexpected twists, feel pain, and reread sentences on several occasions to grasp their depth and gravity. The author’s conversational style makes you feel like the inquisitive fly on the wall inside the apartment where the hostage drama unfolds. Secretly wishing it never ends.

Pick up Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

About the Reviewer:
Sapna Nair is a writer, editor, and writing coach. She has worked with publications such as Financial Express, Business Today, and afaqs!. Follow her escapades on Instagram.

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