I am anxious, about my career, about how life is going to turn out, about if this all is going to be fine. The point is I am anxious and you must have been anxious too; at some point of your life.
Setting of the story
Set in Sweden, Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (translated to English by Neil Smith) is a story about a lot of things. It is about a bank robbery turned into a hostage situation. It is about an apartment viewing. It is about relationships: between couples, between parents and children. It is about the beauty of literature, about bridges. It is about kindness and strangers. But, most of all, it is about idiots; like you and me.
Anxious People has an unusual plot because it is about strange people landing up in extremely unlikely situations. Well, you see, the bank robbery is not really a bank robbery.
There are a lot of situations with several characters in those, which while writing can more often than not go the wrong way. But trust Backman to do it right.
With so many things at hand in the book, I was worried about how all this is going to turn out, but it was a pleasant surprise to see how cleverly the book is constructed. Every element of the story fits perfectly, like a well knit sweater.
The characters are an eccentric bunch but each one is written with equal thought. They are very different but find something in common with each other, probably with me and you too. The character development is done throughout the book and keeps the story moving.
I loved the dynamic between the police officers, Jim and Jack, who are a father and son duo. I loved how peculiar yet how real every character was. You would find pieces of yourself in the characters too.
Backman’s masterful storytelling
The plot, the characters are all important elements of the book but none of them shine as much as Backman’s writing. It is simply brilliant. With his trademark wry humour and intelligent writing, a myriad of emotions and characters are handled exceptionally well. The unique point of the writing is that it is both humorous and poignant at the same time. The translation by Neil Smith is very precise as well.
Anxiety, depression and loneliness, all very sensitive feelings are handled in a delicate manner with utmost sincerity. Not once does the book sound preachy when talking about vulnerability and helplessness.
Sharing some of my favourite excerpts below:
“We give those we love nicknames, because love requires a word that belongs to us alone.”
They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.
That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between two people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s.
God doesn’t protect people from knives, sweetheart. That’s why God gave us other people, so we can protect each other.
We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.
We’re just strangers passing each other, your anxieties briefly brushing against mine as the fibers of our coats touch momentarily on a crowded sidewalk somewhere. We never really know what to do to each other, with each other, for each other.
We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance, sweetheart. We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to find a way to convince ourselves that that will just have to…be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning.
One of the most human things about anxiety is that we try to cure chaos with chaos.