Anansi Boys: A Novel
by Neil Gaiman
Review by Drew Bittner
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 006051518X
Date: 20 September, 2005 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Mr. Nancy, their aged neighbor explains to Fat Charlie, was a god. Specifically, the African god Anansi, the Spider God. And Fat Charlie has a brother.
Summoning this brother on a drunken whim, Fat Charlie plays host to Spider, a trickster in Anansi's mold. They go out for a night of wine, women and song, ending with a strange girl named Daisy in Fat Charlie's bed--just as his future mother in law comes to visit about wedding arrangements.
Meanwhile, Spider takes a shine to Fat Charlie's life. This results in his coming between Fat Charlie and Rosie (the fiancee), as well as setting up the hapless brother for trouble with his larcenous boss Grahame Coats.
Coats, a theatrical agent, has been stealing from his clients for decades. Spider uncovers this with ease and threatens Coats, causing the boss to take steps to protect himself...
Worse, Spider also pursues Rosie. Once Fat Charlie learns what Spider has done, he returns to Florida and goes on a mystical journey, which ends in a foolish bargain to get rid of Spider. For his part, Spider begins to realize what his meddling has cost Fat Charlie, even as he knows things with Rosie have gone too far.
Daisy, who turns out to be a police officer, is brought further into matters by Coats. Fat Charlie ends up in jail, but he is broken out in an unexpected fashion. He also comes to realize that his bargain may mean the danger is closer to home than he anticipated.
As Coats's schemes begin to unravel and Daisy investigates, Rosie learns more about Spider and Fat Charlie begins to realize a few things on his own. These diverse threads pull together on the island of Saint Andrew. The sons of a dead god must have a final reckoning, settling some accounts of their dad's from the dawn of time...with the fate of the world unexpectedly in the balance.
It seems there are two schools of British humor, the broad farce and the intellectual. Terry Pratchett embodies one and Neil Gaiman here stakes a claim to the other. He has said that Anansi Boys is consciously a "funny book," unlike his other and more serious novels, and he certainly delivers. Fat Charlie is the poor shlub to whom life happens; he is the butt of the joke, the stooge for every prank or mischievous act of God (or gods). His journey of self-discovery, aided by a cabal of neighbor women with secrets of their own, is fun and full of "Anansi stories," which Gaiman recounts as a break between various chapters. Spider is the cool brother, an envy-magnet whose smoothness lies in stark contrast to Fat Charlie's awkward fumbling; he likewise grows considerably, particularly when he realizes how hollow the life of a demigod can be...and what it will take to fill the void in his own existence.
Anansi Boys is a great read, light-hearted and quickly paced, with a rich stew of genres and storytelling archetypes blended together as only Gaiman can. Fans of his comic book works, many short stories and novels will be well rewarded, but new readers can pick up this book and enjoy it just as thoroughly.