Neil Gaiman is best known for his witty, slightly wonky brand of dark fantasy. But he gets a bit lighter for "Anansi Boys," a sort of unconnected sequel to his hit "American Gods." You think your dad is embarrassing? Well, at least he's not a trickster god.
Fat Charlie's dad has always been weird -- brass bands for the terminally ill, nicknames that stick, and much more. But even away from his dad, Charlie isn't happy. Then he gets the news that his dad died during a karaoke song; when he goes to the funeral, an old neighbor tells him that Daddy was really Anansi the spider god. Even worse, Charlie finds out he has a brother.
Spider is everything Charlie isn't -- charming, debonair, witty, and magical. Soon he has not only taken over Fat Charlie's house, but his fiancee as well, distracting Fat Charlie from his boss's attempts to frame him. Determined to get rid of Spider, Fat Charlie enlists the Bird Woman's help -- but soon finds that his pact will only get them in deeper trouble with the ancient gods.
Trickerster gods -- Anansi, Loki, Kokopelli -- are always fun. And Gaiman makes the idea even more fun with "Anansi Boys." Sibling rivalry forms the backbone of the book, but it's also sprinkled with corporate intrigue, romance, and the old Anansi legends (which Gaiman inserts periodically). And of course -- lots and lots of humour.
With this lighter tone, Gaiman sounds a lot like his pal Terry Pratchett, right down to wry humor and comic timing. "There are three things, and three things only, that can lift the pain of mortality and ease the ravages of life. These things are wine, women and song." "Curry's nice too." Gaiman seems to be having a lot of fun in this book.
And nowhere is the fun more clear than in Spider and Fat Charlie. They're like yin and yang, one charming, conscienceless and godly, while the other is nervy, awkward and mundane. Spider's charm leaps out from the page, while Fat Charlie is sort of Gaiman's "Charlie Brown."
Everyone gets annoyed by their siblings and embarrassed by their dad, but the "Anansi Boys" have a life more complex than most. Lighter than most Neil Gaiman books, but hilarious, dark and imaginative.
on 22 June 2006
Neil Gaiman introduced Compe Anansi, the African spider-god and trickster, as a minor character in his last best seller, "American Gods." Although American Gods was readable, Anansi Boys is better. As another reviewer has pointed out, there were places where American Gods just felt like a bit of a re-hash of the Brief Lives story arc from "Sandman." By comparison, Anansi Boys takes the character and background of the African (or by now African-American) god Anansi and riffs on the mythos with highly original results.
Anansi himself is a brilliantly memorable creation - a dapper, fedora-wearing, wisecracking, Cab Calloway lookalike with a perpetual eye for the ladies (even after death) and a soft-shoe shuffle "that was popular for about half an hour in Harlem in the 1920's," and, in consequence, a constant source of toe-curling mortification to his estranged son Fat Charlie. When the story opens, Fat Charlie is living mundanely in South London, with a lukewarm fiancée, a mother-in-law-to-be from Hell, and a job working for a man who resembles the psychotic twin of Reggie Perrin's boss. He's one of life's mysteriously selected fall guys - his father plays humiliating jokes on him as a kid, promotion passes him over; coffee gets spilt on his lap, his embarrassing nickname survives weight loss and a 3000-mile move across the Atlantic, a wrongful arrest causes neighbours to assume that he must be a Yardie. Things, however, are about to get worse ... far, far worse.
Told with the authorial voice of a generous, stand-up raconteur (Gaiman credits Lenny Henry in the acknowledgements) this is entertainment of a high quality. As with "American Gods", there's a certain amount of magic. Appropriately, however, and at best, it often appears as verbal trickery, so that you can watch the storyteller shifting the perceptions of the listener as they talk (in one of the best scenes, Fat Charlie's boss tries to sack his twin brother Spider, and the usual redundancy spiel goes horribly wrong). I'd always assumed Gaiman did the plot of "Good Omens," and Pratchett did the dialogue, but this demonstrates that he can do both ... now, if only the two of them could get back together for "Good Omens II" ..?
on 11 May 2006
'Anansi Boys' is really a story about embarrassing parents and other relatives who turn up exactly when you least want and need them to that starts out completely - well, normal - and suddenly drops into a mixture of horror, fantasy, comedy and crime all at once. Fat Charlie Nancy discovers after his father's funeral that Dad wasn't just any emabarrassing parent but Anansi the trickster spider-god. And when voodoo witch Mrs. Higgler tells him he has a brother he can't even remember, Charlie impulsively calls said brother up (magically I mean not on the phone). which gets him ino a great deal of trouble with the police, his fiancé, various ancient gods, his psycho boss, and worst of all, his future mother-in-law...
Gaiman's story is the funniest thing I've read since the last time I bought a Discworld novel a year or so ago; it is also the spookiest. How many times do we all wonder who our parents were before they were parents, and why they have to be so embarrassing once they are? And how many of us have had nightmares about someone else taking over our lives? And above all, how does Gaiman manage to slip in the supernatural (or rather, weird) occurences into normal life with such ease that they seem completely logical, totally normal and so simple that it seems anyone should be able to perform 'miracles'? I guess its just a question of style; and Gaiman has lots of it. He appears to toss this story off without any effort whatsoever, and thus it reads more easily than most fantasy and/or horror stories that seem a lot more forced and constructed. And you simply cannot call it a book: it is a story of the same sort as the original Anansi stories: a fairy-tale.
on 3 July 2006
I read this on the back of reading another novel by Gaiman - American Gods. I rated American Gods as 5 stars, and I actually thought that Anansi Boys is a better book!
The book is a hybrid of reality, fantasy and comedy, and manages to combine the three extremely well. It is extremely well-written as per usual from Gaiman, and the characters are very well developed, although it suffers in parts from the odd clichéd character (the girlfriends mother, for example), but this doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment.
There are some dark moments in the book that are quite thought-provoking, but on the whole it is fairly easy reading. The storyline is original and, like American Gods, involves quite a few of God legends.
If you liked Gaiman's previous work, you'll love this. If you like fantasy books (Pratchett, Holt etc), you'll love this. In fact if you like reading, you should love this! This gets the full 5 stars, highly recommended.
on 19 November 2010
Neil Gaiman is a very good, if not great, writer and he proved he is a smart writer as well with "Anansi Boys" (if there was any doubt). Whether you call it a sequel, or a spin-off, "Anansi Boys" is not an attempt to reproduce the amazing and incredible "American Gods". Instead, Gaiman produces a humorous novel, much lighter in feel, and much narrower in scope than its predecessor. By doing so, he has created a novel which can stand on its own merits, and will largely avoid a detailed comparison with its predecessor because the two are clearly very different.
The main character is Charlie Nancy, who is usually referred to as "Fat Charlie", though he isn't fat, but it is a nickname that his father gave him and it has stuck with him throughout his life. Charlie has become engaged, and his fiancé, Ruth, queries him about inviting his father to the wedding. This artful trick allows Gaiman to fill the reader on Charlie's history, the tricks his father played on him, and how he got to London while his Father lives in the U.S. At this point, Charlie is unaware that his father is the god Anansi, and he is unaware that his father has just died. In going to the funeral, Charlie's unusual family tree is revealed by old neighbors and friends of the family. They reveal not just the true nature of his father, but also the existence of Charlie's brother, Spider.
Initially Spider is quite different from Charlie, but throughout the book Spider becomes more like Charlie, and Charlie more like Spider, and they have the connection of brotherhood which allows Charlie to forgive Spider for the numerous tricks he plays on Charlie. Spider has inherited the magic and the trickster aspect of their father, while Charlie is much more mundane. His one great talent turns out to be singing, though stage fright prevents him initially from displaying it.
In spite of being dead, Anansi is also a key character in this story. Not just because these are his sons, but Gaiman artfully weaves the stories of Anansi with the rest of the story to make Anansi a critical character and to provide insight into Spider and Charlie. Those are by far the most important characters, but there is an additional cast of characters who fill out Charlie's life and are important to the direction of the book. Humor is key to this book, and it is present throughout, even through murder, torture, kidnapping, and prison.
I know that some have categorized this as Horror in addition to Fantasy, but I don't personally think it fits in that category. Certainly some horrible things happen, and there are a couple points where suspense builds a bit, but the humor aspect prevents me from putting it in that category. Regardless of what category it is put in, this is a very enjoyable novel, and while I would not put it on the same level as "American Gods", "Anansi Boys" stands quite well on its own.
Amazingly, Neil Gaiman refused the nomination for the Hugo award, but that didn't stop "Anansi Boys" from winning the 2006 Locus award for Fantasy Novel, the 2006 British Fantasy August Derleth Award for best novel, the 2006 Geffen award for Fantasy Book, the 2006 Mythopoeic award for Adult Literature, and the 2006 SF Site Poll for SF/Fantasy Book.
good and ill together. That line from Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well captures the essence of Neil Gaiman's latest creation, Anansi Boys.
Charlie Nancy is one of life's more passive characters. He is perpetually embarrassed by those around him. He grew up in Florida embarrassed by his father who had an eye for the ladies, never seemed to have a job, and who bestowed upon Charlie the nickname "Fat Charlie". It is a name that stuck to Charlie like glue and has followed him everywhere he goes, even to England where he now lives and works. More than anything else, Fat Charlie is embarrassed by himself. His life is an endless stream of self-conscious needless apologies for his life. As one would expect from a character like Charlie he is timid in front of his boss and can't seem to convince his fiancé that there is nothing wrong with consummating their relationship prior to their marriage. The word perpetually frustrated comes to mind here.
As the story opens, Fat Charlie is back in Florida for the funeral of his father. Charlie no doubt hopes his dad's death, which occurred while singing a song in a Karaoke bar much to Charlie's embarrassment, will put an end to his own state of perpetual embarrassment. That is the closure Charlie seeks. But the old ladies who made up his Dad's circle of friends tell Fat Charlie that their father was something of a god, in fact a spider god. They also tell Fat Charlie he has a brother. Fat Charlie, of course, will have none of this nonsense and returns to England.
Of course, life is never so simple for any character drawn by Neil Gaiman. It turns out Fat Charlie does have a brother, Spider, who is everything Charlie is not. Spider is personable, charming, glib, and has the ability to charm the pants off just about anyone he desires. As the name Spider implies, Charlie is soon drawn into the parallel world inhabited by Spider a world of small gods and vengeful animals. Fat Charlie is introduced to a whole new universe of characters and his ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy grows increasingly thin.
Anansi Boys worked on two levels for me. First, I actually grew attached to the character of Fat Charlie. I was surprised that I developed such empathy for Fat Charlie. Generally, I do not find 'passive' characters all that attractive, but, as the book wore on I felt myself rooting for him. Second, Anansi Boy is, at its heart a story about a dysfunctional (but very funny) family and explores how its members try to reach some accommodation with their past and their present relationships. This is not meant to imply that the book is weighed down with ponderous statements on the meaning of life or families; far from it. The great success of Gaiman's writing in my opinion is that he can handle a topic with both humor and sensitivity. The story does not bog down in 'deep thoughts'. Gaiman spins his yarn and leaves it up to the reader to read between the laughs. I found the conclusion to be particularly well done.
I very much liked Anansi Boys. It should certainly satisfy fans of Gaiman's body of work. It is also accessible to anyone who has not read Gaiman.
Anansi Boys, like the spiders that form its conceptual heart, draws you inexorably into its web until you cannot get out. Fortunately, Gaiman has spun such a fine yarn that you don't mind being ensnared at all. This was a book worth reading.
The book has all the sly touches of Gaiman humour that we've come to expect. I particularly enjoyed the retailing of Anansi's final moments on earth, the tricks he used to play on poor Fat Charlie, and some of the scenes with the villainous Grahame Coats were v. amusing, albeit in a black humour way. However, there is a peculiar lack of ... soul to the piece.
I don't empathise with Fat Charlie's worsening week (starting with his dad's death, moving onto the discovery that he has a twin brother with God like powers who takes a shine to his fiancee, Rose, his being framed for fraud by Grahame Coats and ending with a battle against the resentful and malevolent Tiger) because you know that it's going to turn out alright. As it becomes obvious that Gaiman's setting up Fat Charlie with policewoman, Daisy, you know that it's okay for Rose to have never really loved him but you would have still liked something more than the pat resolution he comes up with. Similarly, Fat Charlie's twin, Spider, is going to have some form of chastisement for trying to screw over his brother, but Gaiman set-up telegraphs the fact that he too will have a happy ending with Rose.
There's also a certain patness to some of the characters - Grahame Coats in particular, whilst amusing, is very two-dimensional on the page. I'd have liked to see more of his motivation or just something more than low level cunning and homicidal tendencies on the page - the closest we get is his pact with Tiger at the end, and whilst beautifully written, it didn't satisfy me.
Where Gaiman does succeed very well is in conveying a certain Caribbean rhythm to the writing. He credits Nalo Hopkinson with helping him with the dialogue, and the result is excellent and very compelling - I can believein his large, elderly, bustling Caribbeanwomen chattering with each other and chiding Fat Charlie. There's also a real Caribbean vibe to the narrative voice and the sections where Gaiman recounts some of Anansi's adventures feel very authentic.
This is not the type of book I usually read - not really being a great fan of humour in books. However, it was a book club read and so I approached it with trepidation and a feeling that I would probably not really like it. How wrong I was - and what a clever and original story this is. Fat Charlie Nancy is a slightly put upon man, working for an unpleasant boss in a tiny office in London, not getting very fair with his fiancee and positively disliked by his future mother in law. Meanwhile, in sunny Florida, his father dies an undignified death on a karaoke stage. Fat Charlie is ambivilent about his father - seeing him as a source of embarressment and no longer being close to him. However, he returns to Florida for the funeral and discovers that his father was really Anansi, the tricky spider god and that he has a brother he has never seen. How does he meet this brother? Ask a spider obviously. So, mostly disbelieving, he does just that and Spider appears. He is a complete conract to Fat Charlie - he is, in fact, a god. From this point on, everything in Charlie's life turns upside down and, having invited Spider into his world, how easy will it be to get rid of him? Great fun and intelligent humour, with a few myths and stories thrown in.
on 14 March 2006
The old African gods are still going strong in the 20th century. They've expanded their range with the ancestors of the people who first believed in them: the islands of the Caribbean, America, Britain, this world and the next. Anansi, the spider god, won all the stories from Tiger (the god that represents all cats) long long ago. And Tiger is still angry about it. When Anansi dies, his son, Charlie is in for a world of trouble. Nobody told him his dad was a god - not until after the old fellow died. Then they told him that he has a brother too. It's all news to Charlie. And that's just the beginning.
My thanks to the previous reviewer. His enthusiastic review persuaded me to buy this audiobook. As he's indicated, Lenny Henry is an excellent reader. The way he can change his voice from an old lady with a Caribbean accent, to a girl with an English accent to a man with an American accent, without pause or hesitation, is very impressive and completely convincing. The story is fantastic (in both senses of the word), sometimes funny, occasionally frightening and a real treat for the imagination.
Great fun. Highly recommended.
Neil Gaiman is best known for his witty, slightly wonky brand of dark fantasy. But he gets a bit lighter for "Anansi Boys," a sort of unconnected sequel to his hit "American Gods."Trickerster gods -- Anansi, Loki, Kokopelli -- are always fun. And Gaiman makes the idea even more fun with "Anansi Boys." Sibling rivalry forms the backbone of the book, but it's also sprinkled with corporate intrigue, romance, and the old Anansi legends (which Gaiman inserts periodically). And of course -- lots and lots of humour. With this lighter tone, Gaiman sounds a lot like his pal Terry Pratchett, right down to wry humor and comic timing. Gaiman seems to be having a lot of fun in this book. And nowhere is the fun more clear than in Spider and Fat Charlie. Everyone gets annoyed by their siblings and embarrassed by their dad, but the "Anansi Boys" have a life more complex than most. Lighter than most Neil Gaiman books, but hilarious, dark and imaginative.