Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman, is a strange book. Like its cousin American Gods, I didn’t quite understand everything that happened along the way, but I did enjoy myself all the while. Anansi is a prominent African and Caribbean god. He is a spider in form, but often takes the guise of a man.
Fat Charlie Nancy has never really got along well with his father. As a child his dad would play jokes on him, often resulting in loads of embarrassment and humiliation for Fat Charlie. When his father died on a karaoke stage in Florida, Fat Charlie flew across the Ocean to attend the funeral and finally make his peace with the man. But fate had something else in mind. A strange, old neighbor and family-friend tells Fat Charlie that he has a brother, and that if he ever wants to talk to him then all he needs to do is tell a spider. She also tells Fat Charlie that his dad was Anansi, and that he was a god. Confused and uncertain, Charlie heads back to England to return to his bookkeeping job and his fiancée, Rosie, ready to get on with his life.
Indeed, life goes on for Fat Charlie, albeit somewhat dull and mostly uneventful. But one night, while a little drunk, Fat Charlie is taking a spider outside and remembers the words of his old neighbor. He tells the spider to tell his brother hello. And from there things will never be the same.
Part of me really liked this book, but part of me simply thought it was okay. Neil Gaiman is a wonderful word-spinner, and definitely at the top of his craft here. The writing is beautiful. The prose flows smoothly and reads easily. I found myself laughing at some of the word choices because they were perfect. The style of the book isn’t too serious, but it’s not not-serious, either, and this worked well with the many different characters. Below are two of my favorite quotes.
“I knew that the meeting of two brothers, well, it’s the subject of epics, isn’t it? I decided the only way to treat it with the appropriate gravity would be to do it in verse. But what kind of verse? Am I gonna rap it? Declaim it? I mean, I’m not gonna greet you with a limerick. So it had to be something dark. Something powerful. Rhythmic. Epic. And then I had it…”
“Daisy looked up at him with the kind of expression Jesus might have given someone who had just explained that he was probably allergic to bread and fishes, so could He possibly do a quick chicken salad?”
Like the web shown on the cover art, the plot is one large tangle of different characters’ lives, all connected. Some characters you can’t help but love; others you only wish their ill will. Grahame Coats, Charlie’s boss, is one those kind of characters that exist solely to get on your nerves.
Another thing I really liked about this book was how simple and imaginative it was. Fat Charlie’s story could almost pass as real, but for the minor magical and unexplainable occurrences that happen to him. The fantasy is very mild and toned down throughout most of the novel, but there are a few instances when Gaiman spins a wonderfully vivid, imaginary world. But I did feel that Fat Charlie was a relatable protagonist, and that’s usually a plus.
I also enjoyed Gaiman’s excellent use of mythology and folklore. The man truly knows his stuff, and can tell it like no other. On the surface, Anansi Boys is a story about Fat Charlie and his long-lost-brother. But once you get reading it, you find that the life of a god (or of his children) is never quite that simple. Tiger wants his stories back from Anansi, and he’ll stop at nothing to get them.
I suppose my unlikes were very few and rather vague. It’s really just the overall story that seemed to be lacking. On one hand, everything was connected and worked out wonderfully well. On the other, I was occasionally lost and unsure, but I get the feeling that the reader is supposed to feel this way. Still, not enough to complain about, just being a bit picky. Also the story is not as grandiose as I was expecting, but instead rather straight-forward: Charlie wants to get his life back to normal. And this, is the main source of why the story was simply okay.
Overall, I did rather enjoy Anansi Boys. The lighthearted tale was fun to read, and the interspersed dark parts added enough conflict to the story to propel the book along nicely. If you’re curious about Gaiman, I wouldn’t start with this novel, but instead opt for American Gods or the Sandman comics. However, this book is a standalone and does not have any prerequisites. So if mythology interests you, particularly African mythos, or if you’re wanting something quick and fun to read, I easily recommend Anansi Boys.
(NOTE: Is it coincidence that I posted my reflection on American Gods one year ago, 4/28/09, and my review of Anansi Boys today, 4/29/10? Probably.)