Robyn Reviews: Anxious People

Fredrik Backman has a gift for writing people. He seems to understand how people think, how they interact with each other, their motivations, their desires, their fears, in a way that no-one else quite manages. His books are little slices of humanity, always profoundly moving experiences, beautifully written but without any flowery language. I wish I could speak Swedish just so I could experience them in their original form – but full credit to the translator, Neil Smith, for their exceptional job.

Anxious People is a brilliant book. It’s laugh out loud funny in places, sad in others, and changes the way you look at the world. Each character is fresh, unique, and perfectly written. The plot is, in many ways, completely insane, but it works – possibly because it’s almost incidental. This is a story about characters, not about events, and the madness of the plot illustrates perfectly the madness of humanity.

It’s a story about a bank robbery, except it’s not. It’s a story about a hostage situation, but to call it a hostage situation doesn’t do the book or the characters justice at all. Really, it’s a story about a bank robber, two police officers, a banker, a young lesbian couple, a retired couple who renovate homes, an actor, a grandmother, an estate agent, and a therapist. I could tell you more, but all I’m going to tell you is to read it. It’s brilliant, and it’s even more brilliant when you don’t know anything going in. Just enjoy being taken for the ride.

The characters are perfect. They all start perfectly normal, somewhat stereotypical, then layers upon layers are peeled back and suddenly you’re questioning everything. Backman takes every single assumption that people make and flips them. It’s clever and leaves you questioning everything, which is exactly how a novel should make you feel.

Read this book. I usually end my reviews by recommending books to a specific audience, but this book’s audience is everyone. There is no-one who wouldn’t benefit from reading this, and I think most will enjoy it. It’s fun, clever, very different, and an indescribably good reading experience. I’m so grateful to live in a time when we have a novelist like Fredrik Backman.

 

Published by Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Hardback: 20 August 2020

Book Review: A Man Called Ove

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A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (translated by Henning Koch), is beautifully, painfully moving and funny. I laughed, I cried, I recognised so many irritating traits in the cantankerous protagonist. I wished that every community could have a man like Ove, and then wondered how most would put up with him.

Ove is fifty-nine years old and spends much of his time feeling angry. He has been an angry, old man for much of his adult life. He knows how to build a house, rebuild a car, but not how to get on with others. It is his view that most people are complete idiots, especially those who drive Audis or, even worse, French cars. He believes that the type of car a person chooses to drive says a great deal about their character.

Ove approves of loyalty and routine. He worked in the same place for a third of a century and has always driven a Saab. He keeps tools and other useful stuff in his shed, and patrols the neighbourhood early each morning to ensure that the Residents Association rules are being adhered to. He has no time for consultants, bureaucrats or computers.

Ove can see that the world around him has changed and he does not like it. He plans his demise. Time and again his plans are foiled when he is forced to act in order that he may deal with some stupidity caused by the irritating fools who surround him. He knows how the world should be and cannot comprehend why others do not follow the rules.

Each short chapter tells a story whilst progressing the core narrative, the story of Ove’s life. We are introduced to his family, his neighbours and the many, many people who he reluctantly helps. Ove’s quiet value, often hidden behind his grumpy intransigence, is recognised by more than he realises.

This is a story of people, tolerance and the inadequacies of society. It is an unusual and satisfying tale filled with mindful observations. I recommend that you read it.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Sceptre.