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Anxious People: Book summary and reviews of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People

by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman X
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
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Book Summary

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and "writer of astonishing depth" (the Washington Times) comes a poignant, charming novel 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.

Looking at real estate isn't usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can't fix their own marriage. There's a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can't seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment's only bathroom, and you've got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Rich with Fredrik Backman's "pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature" (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious times.

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Media Reviews

"[A] tight-knit, surprise-filled narrative...Comedy, drama, mystery, and social study, this novel is undefinable except for the sheer reading pleasure it delivers. Highly recommended." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Backman charms with his empathetic description of the robber, who gradually earns sympathy from the hostages. This amusing send-up of contemporary Swedish society is worth a look." - Publishers Weekly

"The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters. A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans." - Kirkus Reviews

"A deeply funny and warm examination of how individual experiences can bring a random group of people together. Backman reveals each character's many imperfections with tremendous empathy, reminding us that people are always more than the sum of their flaws." - BookPage

This information about Anxious People was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cathryn Conroy

Read This Book! It's Brilliantly Plotted, Heartwarming, and Hilarious
This is the story of a bank robber who botches the job and then inadvertently takes eight people hostage, all of whom are viewing an apartment for sale in a small town in Sweden the day before New Year's Eve. It's also the story of the two police officers—a father and a son—who end the hostage siege and then investigate the crime. And there is a lot of bridge symbolism and imagery.

Except that's not it at all.

This is the story of all those people, all those troubled, hurting, anxious people who meet and share their stories and learn so much about themselves, each other, and the point of living together on this planet. THAT is what this book is really about. It should win an award for Most Heartwarming Book of the Year—without being all treacly and sweet. Instead, it's hilarious, so it could also win Funniest Book of the Year—without being filled with stupid jokes. (OK, maybe there are a few of those, but only a few!)

But there definitely are lots of bridge symbols and imagery, which elevates this from a fun novel to literature.

Written by the incredible Fredrik Backman, the story bounces back and forth in time over just a few hours on December 30. It is brilliantly plotted. And I mean that—it's brilliant. How Backman figured out this particular way to tell the story is a sign of his writing genius. It's one of those books that I kept saying to myself, "Just one more chapter…just one more chapter." And since the chapters are relatively short, this is the kind of thing that leads to hours in a reading chair.

Bonus: This book has the BEST ending. And by that I mean not the last sentence, not the last paragraph, not the last page, and not even the last chapter. It takes the last 44 pages for the ending to be fully told.

And if you have ever lost a loved one to suicide, as I have lost two, then this is a book that may just offer you a bit of hope and peace and respite as it did for me.

Read this book when you're feeling sad because it is packed with common sense life advice that will make you feel better. Read this book if you want to laugh because we all need to laugh. And definitely read this book if you want to know how NOT to rob a bank.

Actually, just read this book.

Lynne Z.

Clever and wonderful
I loved this book. Backman is a genius. So many surprises and laughs that unfold until the very end - I can't imagine how his mind works. He not only creates fascinating characters, but devises a complicated plot with every detail tied together brilliantly. I noticed the book just came out in paperback. It would be an excellent choice for an online discussion. Any chance that could happen?

Karen A. Riccio

Highly recommend
I started this book during early COVID, and couldn’t get into it. Then I had several friends say they rated this book one of their top favorites for 2020. So I revisited it . What a wonderful book. Please give it a chance, stick with it, and you will love and care about everyone of the quirky characters in this novel.

Anna Rowe

Glad I Stuck to It.
I like the way Fredrik Backman has such a distinct style but still manages to add a new flavour to it with each book he does. There was a lot going on in this book and I fell in and out of love with it a few times while I was reading it. There were moments that I thought he lost control of the plot but he always managed to pull it together again and by the end I knew that he knew exactly what he was doing the whole time. There are some good characters in the book and plenty of great dialogue and in true Backman style, he manages to make things funny and profound at the same time. Despite my ups and downs, this ended up being a really satisfying read for me. It was very immersive and by the end, I felt like I had been through an ordeal. I like that in a book.

Cloggie Downunder

Wise, insightful and blackly funny.
“…you should always be nice to other people, even idiots, because you never know how heavy their burden is.”

Anxious People is the sixth novel by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman. It is translated by Neil Smith and consists of (approx):
11 Comedy of Errors
11 Locked-room mystery
33 Social Commentary
11 Love Story
11 Slapstick/Keystone Cops
22 Philosophy
1 Farce
And 100 Backman
A small Swedish town. The young cop is frustrated. The hostages have been released unharmed, but the hostage-taker is missing, and the cop is certain that some, if not all, of the hostages are telling less than the whole truth. The big bosses from Stockholm will soon be there to take over.

The older cop worries for the young man, who obviously wants to solve the whole thing before they arrive. But the puzzle is defeating him. Hidden by a ski-mask and wielding a pistol, the robber made an unsuccessful attempt to rob the bank, then fled into an apartment open for viewing, taking the potential buyers hostage.

After a thorough search of the apartment, however, there was no sign of the failed robber. Interrogation of each of the hostages yields little useful information. Of course, the reader, privy to the bank robber’s thoughts, has it figured out pretty quickly, right? Sure.

In characteristic Fredrik Backman fashion, he gives the reader a cast of people, all with their own individual anxieties, but all easy to identify with, throws them together and gradually reveals how they got that way. If all are initially strangers, there are definitely less than six degrees of separation between some of them.

There’s a gun, a fair bit of blood, a large rabbit, a bowl of limes, several pizzas, and someone ends up with a lump on their forehead, but no animals are harmed in the making of this tale. Patience with the initial silliness is amply rewarded with an intriguing mystery, astute observations and sage comments, and lots of laugh-out-loud moments: “The bank robber stamped the floor in frustration. ‘No one’s listening to me! You’re the worst hostages ever!’” Wise, insightful and blackly funny.


A brilliant book
If Fredrik Backman knocked on my door, I would hug him to death, Covid or no Covid. This book made me indescribably happy, alternating with tears, and lots of moments laughing out of loud. I think it was one of those books that you want to clasp to your heart and never let go. It was profound but with simplistic prose as one becomes enmeshed in the characters' lives. And what a cast! A bank robber who is not a robber(You will just have to trust me on this one!), a banker, a retired couple who renovate houses, a sweet grandmother, an actor, a real estate agent, a therapist, who all become involved in a hostage situation( except it really wasn't). It is during their time together, that their life histories and emotional lives unfold like a flower about to bloom. Primarily, it is a character study with an insane improbable plot but it all works. In all Backman's novels, he has a unique ability to flesh out his heart steeling characters in ways that are profoundly human. It was an ingenious ride, and though I just finished it, I want to go on the ride again and again !

...2 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Fredrik Backman Author Biography

Photo: Henric Lindsten

Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called OveMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryBritt-Marie Was HereBeartownUs Against You, and Anxious People, as well as two novellas and one work of nonfiction. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.

Link to Fredrik Backman's Website

Name Pronunciation
Fredrik Backman: Backman's name is pronounced broadly as it sounds, but his famous character Ove is more challenging, it rhymes with hoover

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