Anxious People

Anxious People

by

Fredrik Backman

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Anxious People Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Fredrik Backman's Anxious People. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Fredrik Backman

Backman was born and raised in southern Sweden, in the Stockholm suburbs. As a young man he wrote for the Swedish newspaper Helsingsborgs Dagblad, and he also began keeping a blog in 2009. The material for his first novel, A Man Called Ove, first appeared on his blog. When the novel was finally published in 2012, it became an overnight sensation: it was translated into 25 languages, became an international bestseller, and was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 42 weeks. Backman has since written several other novels that have been hits in Sweden and internationally, including My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Beartown, and Britt-Marie Was Here. A Man Called Ove, Beartown, and Anxious People have been adapted for film and television since their publication. Backman lives in Stockholm with his wife and two children.
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Historical Context of Anxious People

The global economic crash that led the man to jump off the bridge is, presumably, the Great Recession, which began in the United States in 2007-08. Due to a variety of factors, including not enough oversight in the banking industry, the entire banking sector crashed and was eventually bailed out in September of 2008. As the American economy is one of the largest in the world and therefore has immense sway on the global economy, many developed countries—including Sweden—also suffered a recession. While the U.S. was officially in a recession for 19 months, Sweden’s recession lasted 15 months. Another thing the novel touches on is immigration to Sweden. Recent estimates suggest that about 15 percent of Sweden’s population is foreign-born, and about 5 percent of Swedish people are born to two immigrant parents. This has led to anti-immigrant sentiment from various Swedish political parties, as well as an increase in violence against immigrants. Finally, Anxious People also highlights people’s (particularly younger people’s) willingness to speak openly about their mental health and seek help for it. The novel highlights the generational divide most clearly as it describes retiree Roger wanting to essentially ignore and discredit his formally diagnosed burnout, which the World Health Organization added to its International Classification of Diseases in the spring of 2019. In contrast, Nadia, a psychologist in her 20s, sees her history with suicidal thoughts as an asset as she helps patients dealing with some of the same things she did.

Other Books Related to Anxious People

Many of Backman’s novels, like Anxious People, feature groups of people with seemingly little in common coming together to form communities and friendships. A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry are perhaps most like Anxious People in this regard. Anxious People is also one of many contemporary novels for readers of all ages that tackles mental health issues (including suicide) and portrays talk therapy in a positive light. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a young adult novel that tackles suicide and bipolar disorder, while Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson highlights eating disorders. Novels like Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation, and the nonfiction book by therapist Lori Gottleib  Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, portray the positive effects of talk therapy. Other novels that consider aspects of parenting and marriage (from the good and heartwarming to the significantly less so) include titles like Justin Torres’s We the Animals, California by Edan Lepucki, The Adults by Caroline Hulse, and The Wife by Megan Wolitzer.
Key Facts about Anxious People
  • Full Title: Anxious People
  • When Written: 2018
  • Where Written: Stockholm, Sweden
  • When Published: 2019; the first U.S. translation was published in 2020
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: A small town in Sweden
  • Climax: The narrator reveals that Jim allowed the bank robber to escape, and Jim finally lets Jack in on this.
  • Antagonist: Fear, anxiety, the modern world, and ostensibly the bank robber’s husband and boss are all antagonists.
  • Point of View: Third Person Omniscient

Extra Credit for Anxious People

Let’s Strike a Deal. When Backman sold his first novel, A Man Called Ove, he stipulated that the publisher would also have to publish his nonfiction book, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World.

Reaching Out. There are a variety of resources for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or who have friends who are struggling (though resources vary by country and locality). In the United States, 988, the phone number for the national suicide prevention hotline, was officially made toll-free in July 2022 and now functions much like calling 911 for other emergencies does.