The challenge with writing about Anxious People is describing the book in any meaningful way without giving away the plot. Fredrik Backman masterfully weaves together a story about ordinary people entangled in an extraordinarily intricate circumstance. On the surface, the story is a whodunit - but that is perhaps the smallest kernel of thought in this book.
Backman touches on a lot of different subjects - people, human condition, relationships, gender norms, stereotypes, victims of economic disparities, loss, grief, redemption, loneliness, parenting . However, none of these discussions crush the core lightness of the book. The humor remains intact even under the weight of the subjects. Several times in the book - the reader gets caught in their own biases. Can't give away too much here!
But my biggest joy was reading how Backman skillfully strings together words to describe people and their quirks. I found myself underlining several sentences in my copy of the book - in places where I thought Backman's word usage was so fresh and unburdened by what has been written about people so far.
Talking about generation gap, he writes:
Jim was born in a generation that regarded computer as magic, Jack in one that has always taken them for granted. When Jim was young, children used to be punished by being sent to their rooms, but these days you have to force children to come out of them. One generation got told off for not being able to sit still, the next gets told off for never moving. So when Jim writes a report he hits every key all the way down very deliberately, then checks the screen at once to make sure it hasn't tricked him, and only then does he press the next key. Because Jim isn't the sort of man who lets himself be tricked. Jack, in turn, types the way young men who've never lived in a world without the Internet do, he can do it blindfolded, stroking the keys so gently that even a forensics expert wouldn't be able to prove that he'd touched them
About fathers and sons, he says:
That's an impossible thing for sons to grasp, and a source of shame for fathers to have to admit: that we don't want our children to pursue their own dreams or walk in our footsteps. We want to walk in their footsteps while they pursue our dreams.
Dads like teaching their sons things, because the moment we can no longer do that is when they stop being our responsibility and we become theirs
Backman's grasp on people, how they behave, what they aspire to and how people fail are some of the most standout parts of the novel for me.
You can always tell by the way people who love each other argue: the longer they've been together, the fewer words they need to start a fight
About addicts, he writes:
Addicts are addicted to their drugs, and their families are addicted to hope
And then the clever use of words to describe ordinary goings-on that is funny and fresh - hard enough to do one, noteworthy to see both.
Ro let out a sigh so deep you could have found oil at the bottom of it
Zara had spent enough of her life in committee rooms with the target market for cuff links to be able to predict the rest of this guy's monologue, so she decided to save her time and his larynx
This year I have attempted to read many translated works. I have found that the works are either outstandingly good or hopelessly confusing for me.
Some of the let downs have been Meiko Kawakami's Breasts and Eggs. I don't know if it is my own unfamiliarity with Japanese writing and cultural norms, but the bulk of the book seemed like a storm in a teacup for me. A lot of outrage for seemingly simple decision making. It did not help that the book is made up of two faintly related stories, so it does not read like a novel.
"Anxious People" is translated from Swedish by Neil Smith. But the translator has been able to capture the lightness, the wit and the depth so beautifully that it is almost easy to forget this is a translated work. Easily one of my favorite reads this year.