New York Times best-selling author Fredrik Backman delivers a delightful book filled with quirky characters, moving personal stories, and revelations of secrets and regrets. Read our Anxious People book club questions to start the conversation around these unique characters.
The story centers on 8 hostages held up by a failed bank robber at an apartment real estate showing. The hostages are anything but easy hostages, and the robber is anything but competent. Backman uses his power of insight into human nature to draw out the quirky personalities of each character, their personal histories and motivations, and tie them together in ways that are surprising, humorous, and moving.
Use these Anxious People book club questions to guide your book club’s discussion of these quirky characters and interactions. Check out the book synopsis, discussion and selected reviews for lots of conversation starters. For more great reads like this, keep reading to the end to find recommendations for 3 books like Anxious People.
Anxious People Synopsis
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
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.
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.
10 Anxious People Book Club Questions
Netflix did a Scandinavian adaption of the book as a limited series. You may want to consider doing a multimedia book club and watch some part of the show together and then dive into the discussion questions.
- “This story is about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots… it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being human is.”
How do these characters seem idiotic in the way they deal with life and each other? After you learn more about them and their history, does your opinion of them change?
- Were you surprised when you found out who the bank robber was? Had you made any assumptions about their identity?
- Several of the characters are connected by events that occurred at the bridge 10 years ago. How have those events changed the course of their lives?
- Would you consider this a “locked room” mystery along the lines of The Guest List or a typical Agatha Christie novel? Why or why not? If you aren’t familiar with the term, here’s a definition.
- The book is written through flashbacks and time jumps which allows certain parts of the plot to remain a mystery, and for the characters’ stories to be revealed in pieces. What did you think of this narrative style?
- Did you find any of the characters annoying or unlikeable? Which ones and why?
- What was the funniest part of the book for you?
- What do you think Zara and Lennert’s future will look like?
- As the title indicates, many of these characters are dealing with anxieties. Who has dealt with their anxiety by hiding or covering them up? How do the events in this book bring them to light and force them to face them? Do you relate to those anxieties?
Selected Reviews for Anxious People
“If you are in the right mood for this book (which I was when I started it), then it is a whimsical, amusing, life-affirming journey to becoming an optimist. But if you are not (which I suddenly shapeshifted into at some point), it is arduous to get through and kind of annoying. I personally prefer the version of myself that enjoyed this book, but unfortunately that version of myself only stuck around for a day or less and left the more powerful version of me to wade through this for the following 6 days.”
And yet a different reviewer said…
“If I were to rate only the first half of this book, I would honestly have nothing positive to say. The characters were absolutely insufferable and I was struggling to care about anything that was happening. HOWEVER, as the book went on, I really grew to love all of the characters and ended up sobbing my way through the last 10% of the book.
“ ‘This wasn’t how life was supposed to turn out.’ Haven’t most of us thought this to ourselves at some point or other in life? This book touched me in a totally different way. How can a book with so much depth and insight about human lives come with so much hilarity, leaving me lighthearted yet teary eyed at the same time?!”
“We plant an apple tree today, even if we know the world is going to be destroyed tomorrow.” That has to be one of the most powerful sentences I’ve read in a while. If there’s one message you take home from this book, I hope it’s this one.”
“…So now, watch me call all of us idiots because Backman makes such good points about the subject. We aren’t alone in our idiot-ness, though. That could be beside the point or it could be THE point. Things happen, mistakes are made, but sometimes we can do things that alter the path of those mistakes before they become so destructive that we can’t pull back from the black hole we are facing.”
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3 Books Like Anxious People
Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Four siblings throw an epic party for Nina Riva’s birthday, only to have the night end with their house in flames. The book explores the characters’ lives, loves, and secrets, which is what makes it similar to Anxious People. The Riva’s fame, fortune, and history are explored in a moving and fascinating way, and we can see how they developed as people to deal with the events and circumstances in their lives.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
A bookseller who views books as medicine and therapy, prescribes books for his customers from his bookstore, which is also a boat on the Seine in Paris. A confrontation forces him to face his avoidance, and his feelings towards his long lost love. This leads him on a country wide boat journey with a young author and passionate chef. This lovely journey transports the trio across French canals and their personal histories to new cities and new versions of personal peace.
The Midnight Library, Matt Haig
The Midnight Library is a magical place filled with books that allow you to see what your life would be if you had made different choices. The main character, Nora Seed, is able to use these books to examine the meaning and relevance in her life. Beautiful writing and thoughtful musings on our lived experiences make this a great next choice.
If you pick this for book club, use our Midnight Library discussion guide.
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Authored by Lacy Challe
She’s is an avid reader who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two children, and dog. She has loved reading and writing about books since childhood, and eventually earned degrees in Comparative Literature and Library and Information Science. She loves analyzing books and providing recommendations to family and friends.