As Anxious People considers its characters’ mental health, their thoughts on parenting, and their marriages, the novel overwhelmingly ties these issues to the modern world. The narrator insists that in today’s fast-paced world, who doesn’t sometimes feel alone, behind, and afraid? Being human is hard enough in any situation, but Anxious People proposes that for all the good things that have come out of modernity, modernity still makes life more stressful than it perhaps needs to be. For instance, in describing an average parent’s inner monologue, the narrator notes how it can often feel like everyone else’s kids but one’s own know how to swim and that every other parent out there actually knows what they’re doing with their jobs or their kids. This perception, the narrator suggests, isn’t usually true—most people feel just as intimidated by others who seem to have it more together than they do—but the perception still makes people feel less capable and more afraid.
Additionally, the novel highlights how many modern systems that were created to improve people’s lives, such as the banking system, actually abuse people’s trust and dreams. Both the bank robber and the man who jumps off the bridge, for instance, run into the unfortunate fact that banks often refuse to lend people money if people don’t have money in the first place—which doesn’t help when one is in a situation like the robber or the man, where they’ve recently lost all they have and just need a little help to get back on their feet. Zara, who runs a bank and denied the man a loan, crystallizes the issue with the banking industry when she says that people don’t buy homes anymore and instead, they buy investments. She’s referring to the fact that few people pay off their mortgages in the modern era, and so they never truly own their own homes. A mortgage is often required to buy a home, but owing so much money to a bank that doesn’t have its customers’ best interests at heart puts homeowners at risk: in a market downturn, homeowners suffer, not the banks. So, while Anxious People certainly celebrates society’s progress (such as that Ro and Julia, a lesbian couple, are able to marry and have a baby together without fuss), it also portrays many aspects of modernity as annoying and stressful at best, if not downright exploitative and harmful.
The Modern World ThemeTracker
The Modern World Quotes in Anxious People
Sometimes it hurts, it really hurts, for no other reason than the fact that our skin doesn’t feel like it’s ours. Sometimes we panic, because the bills need paying and we have to be grown-up and we don’t know how, because it’s so horribly, desperately easy to fail at being grown-up.
Because everyone loves someone, and anyone who loves someone has had those desperate nights where we lie awake trying to figure out how we can afford to carry on being human beings. Sometimes that makes us do things that seem ridiculous in hindsight, but which felt like the only way out at the time.
One single really bad idea. That’s all it takes.
So you would have tried to talk to him, gain his trust, persuade him not to do it. Because you’ve probably been depressed yourself, you’ve had days when you’ve been in terrible pain in places that don’t show up in X-rays, when you can’t find the words to explain it even to the people who love you. Deep down, […] a lot of us know that the difference between us and that man on the bridge is smaller than we might wish. Most adults have had a number of really bad moments, and of course not even fairly happy people manage to be happy the whole darn time. So you would have tried to save him. Because it’s possible to end your life by mistake, but you have to choose to jump.
Because you’d never rob a bank, so you haven’t got anything in common with this bank robber.
Except fear, possibly. Because maybe you’ve been really frightened at some time, and so was the bank robber. Possibly because the bank robber had small children and had therefore had a lot of practice being afraid. Perhaps you, too, have children, in which case you’ll know that you’re frightened the whole time, frightened of not knowing everything and of not having the energy to do everything and of not coping with everything.
“Do you mean to say that…but…what about all my negotiations with the Realtor? All my tactics?”
Anna-Lena couldn’t meet his gaze.
“You get so upset when you lose a bid. I just wanted you to…win.”
She wasn’t telling the whole truth. That she had become the sort of person who just wanted a home. That she wanted to stop now. That she’d like to go to the movies occasionally and see something made-up instead of yet another documentary on television. That she didn’t want to be a shark. She was worried that the betrayal would be too much for Roger.
“Stockholm” is, after all, an expression more than it is a place, both for men like Roger and for most of the rest of us, just a symbolic word to denote all the irritating people who get in the way of our happiness. People who think they’re better than us. Bankers who say no when we apply for a loan, psychologists who ask questions when we only want sleeping pills, old men who steal the apartments we want to renovate, rabbits who steal our wives. Everyone who doesn’t see us, doesn’t understand us, doesn’t care about us.
“Since [Julia] got pregnant everything’s become so serious, because parents are always serious and I suppose we’re trying to fit in. Sometimes I don’t think I’m ready for the responsibility—I mean, I think my phone is asking too much of me when it wants me to install an update, and I find myself yelling: ‘You’re suffocating me.’ You can’t shout that at a child. And children have to be updated all the time, because they can kill themselves just crossing the street or eating a peanut! I’ve mislaid my phone three times already today, I don’t know if I’m ready for a human being.”
“I just wish Roger could feel important again.”
Julia didn’t seem to follow the logic.
“Grandchildren would make him feel important?”
Anna-Lena smiled weakly.
“Have you ever held a three-year-old by the hand on the way home from preschool?”
“You’re never more important than you are then.”
“Apartments aren’t supposed to be investments,” Zara replied gloomily.
“What are they supposed to be, then?”
“Are you some sort of communist?” the rabbit chuckled.
Zara felt like punching him on the nose for that, but instead she pointed between his ears and said: “When the financial crisis hit ten years ago, a man jumped off that bridge because of a property market crash on the other side of the world. Innocent people lost their jobs and the guilty were given bonuses. You know why?”
“Now you’re exaggerat—”
“Because people like you don’t care about the balance in the system.”
She was no longer talking to Lennart, but exactly who she was talking to probably wasn’t clear even to her, but it felt like she’d been waiting ten years to yell at someone. Anyone at all. Herself most of all. So she roared: “People like you and me are the problem, don’t you get that? We always defend ourselves by saying we’re only offering a service. That we’re just one tiny part of the market. That everything is people’s own fault. That they’re greedy, that they shouldn’t have given us their money. And then we have the nerve to wonder why stock markets crash and the city is full of rats…”
“What did you used to do?” the young woman asked.
Anna-Lena filled her lungs, simultaneously hesitant and proud.
“I was an analyst for an industrial company. Well, I suppose I was the senior analyst, really, but I did my best not to be.”
“Senior analyst?” Julia repeated, instantly ashamed of how that sounded.
Anna-Lena saw the surprise in her eyes, but she was used to it and didn’t take offense.
“I just said Knut was parking the car because I get lonely sometimes. And it feels better to pretend that he’s on his way. Especially at this time of year, he always used to like New Year, we used to stand at the kitchen window watching the fireworks. Well…we used to stand on the balcony for years…but I couldn’t bring myself to go out there after something that happened down on the bridge ten years ago. It’s a long story.”
“What did you need the money from the bank robbery for?”
The desperation on her face revealed the chaos in her heart as she said: “To pay the rent. I needed six thousand five hundred. My husband’s lawyer was threatening to take the girls away from me if I didn’t have anywhere to live.”
Jim held onto the handrail to stop himself collapsing as his heart broke. Empathy is like vertigo. Six thousand five hundred, because she thought she’d lose her children otherwise. Her children.
“There are rules, legislation, no one can just take your children away from you simply because…,” he began, then thought better of it and said: “But now they can…now you’ve held up a bank and…” His voice almost gave out as he whispered: “You poor child, what have you got yourself mixed up in?”
“This isn’t just an apartment, it’s my home, I don’t want to hand it over to someone who’s just going to be passing through, to make money from it. I want someone who’s going to love living here, like I have. Maybe that’s hard for a young person to understand.”
That wasn’t true. There wasn’t a single person in the apartment who didn’t understand perfectly.
“But you know what, Zara? I’ve learned that it helps to talk about it. Unfortunately I think most people would still get more sympathy from their colleagues and bosses at work if they show up looking rough one morning and say ‘I’m hungover’ than if they say ‘I’m suffering from anxiety.’ But I think we pass people in the street every day who feel the same as you and I, many of them just don’t know what it is. Men and women going around for months having trouble breathing and seeing doctor after doctor because they think there’s something wrong with their lungs. All because it’s so damn difficult to admit that something else is…broken. That it’s an ache in our soul, invisible lead weights in our blood, an indescribable pressure in our chest.”