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on 23 January 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman's "American Gods"; a semi-epic tale of what could happen if the old gods; those of folklore and religion were to meet in one huge battle for supremacy against the new gods; those of TV and computer games. Although perhaps not his best work - "Neverwhere" still counts as my favourite Gaiman - it was a decent enough read based around a highly interesting premise.

One of the old gods featured in that novel was Anansi, the spider god. He was a trickster with seemingly a million stories and as many practical jokes. He was very much the comic relief in quite a serious tale, so when I realise that Gaiman's latest was to called "Anansi Boys", I figured that it could well be a sequel of sorts and, if it was about Anansi, it could be good for a laugh as well.

Fat Charlie Nancy hasn't had a great life. The main cause of this, he feels, is his father; at every step of life, his father has seemingly taken every opportunity he can to embarrass Fat Charlie. To add insult to injury, his father has just dropped dead in humiliating circumstances, at least for Charlie. As a result of this, Fat Charlie finds out a couple of things he didn't know about his father; firstly, he was Anansi the spider god and second, Fat Charlie has a brother he never knew about.

As a result of this news, Fat Charlie's life is about to undergo some major changes. For one thing, his brother suddenly wants to be a part of his life. Whereas Fat Charlie is unsuccessful in more or less everything he does, his brother is the epitome of cool. He manages to upset Fat Charlie's boss, steal his fiancée and land him under police suspicion. Suddenly, from being settled, if not content, Fat Charlie's life is changeable and uncertain.

Gaiman swiftly takes us into a world where anything can happen and where the gods play with people for their own profit and amusement. But our world can also have an effect on the gods and we see not only how Fat Charlie comes to terms with being the son of a god and what powers his breeding may grant him, but also how Spider discovers that being the son of a god doesn't necessarily mean that everything will go your way. We also get to see the lives and misbehaviours of everyone affected by them; from Charlie's boss and his fiancée to some old friends of his father.

No matter who is the character in the forefront at any given moment in time, though, "Anansi Boys" is an awful lot of fun. Whilst perhaps not as ridiculous or as funny as Gaiman's effort with Terry Pratchett in "Good Omens", it's still highly amusing. Despite the book frequently involving the world of the gods, much of it is largely based in a world that would be recognisable to any of us, which makes events seem more ridiculous and, thus, funnier. Well, that's how it seemed to me, at least.

It's not all a laugh a minute, as there are some dark undertones and not every character is a comic foil. In between the humour, there is time for a story of murder and revenge and even a romantic sub plot. But most of the time, the story exists, much like Anansi's stories, mostly to entertain and amuse and this it does very well indeed.

Another point in Gaiman's favour here is that this is in no way a sequel to his earlier "American Gods", involving nothing more than a few recurring characters. Indeed, having read it may be a disappointment as if you're read that book, you may actually be disappointed that this isn't similar. All Gaiman is done here is take a character he likes and have a lot of fun with him, little more than that. Whilst this is a disappointment for anyone expecting a semi-epic tale like before, if you're the kind of person who reads to be entertained or who has enjoyed something like Gaiman and Pratchett's "Good Omens", this is the perfect read for you. It may not be the perfect comic novel and it may not even be Gaiman's best comic novel, but it's definitely worth a look.

No matter where you buy, though, you get your money's worth. Whilst the first read of "Anansi Boys" will be the best, as you simply don't know what to expect and, even if you think you do, you soon discover how wrong you are, it doesn't fail to amuse on a second reading, either. Every book loses a little second time around and this is no different, but there's still plenty here to amuse and entertain more than once, which makes it definitely worth buying.

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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VINE VOICEon 26 July 2011
Anansi Boys is the follow-up to gold standard of modern fantasy - American Gods. Anansi Boys is a fun modern fantasy but it is not genious. The story of Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy and his relationship with his deceased father and long-lost brother is engaging and creative. As in American Gods, the gods and characters from fable have life in the world around us. One of thoe gods - Anansi - is Charles Nancy's father.

Fat Charlie is a character adrift in modern society - hard working, diligent, uninspired. Anansi Boys is his story, and as much as anything it is about the growth Fat Charlie experiences thanks to the influence of those he meets. Fat Charlie's estranged relationship with his father, his unpleasant boss, his aggressive future mother-in-law all help to make Charlie a particularly easy character to empathise with. His is a warm and attractive character who develops in a very pleasing way.

Charlie's father Anansi does not feature much in the book but it is a really excellent character description. It is a little odd for those readers who might have grown up with Anansi stories to have them transposed away from their place of origin and given slightly alien features but Anansi as a soft-shoe shuffling charmer enjoying the easy life is great.

Charlie's brother Spider is the one who breaks open the narrative. Prior to Spider's arrival, the world is sane, senisble, and mundane. Spider is the sense of adventure and creativity that breathes life into the ongoing activities. He is designed as a contrast to Charlie but it is never that black and white. The conclusion of Spider's character arc is really disappointing in its lack of ambition and what Gaiman aspires to for him but Spider is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The women of Anansi Boys are all a bit weird. The old crones in Florida are a nice take on the cabal and Callyanne Higgler in particular is entertaining, easily helped by her well constructed name which places her so easily in the reader's mind. Miss Dinwiddie is a bit of an archetype but she serves the story well as the source of much of the old wisdom and current tension Fat Charlie discovers. Of the two younger women, Rosie gets most of the coverage but as a paragon she is really not very interesting. Daisy is far more intriguing a character but she does not earn as many words. Daisy's parental backstory is the kind of aside that makes a book like this really good to read. The nationality of her parents is that extra touch of excellence and the combination of ultra capitalist Hong Kong and communist Ethiopia makes for an amusing reference point that presumably Gaiman meant to include. Maeve Livingstone and her affection for her husband Morris is a lovely character.

Anansi Boys is not though a work of genious. The dialogue is very clunky at times. In particular, Gaiman appears to have great difficulty describing the dialect of the Caribbean. The various West Indians and Floridians indicate their ethnicity mainly by swapping "are" for "is" as in "I is". While this may be a feature of the particular dialect, there is no roundness or believability to their use of language. This is probably because Gaiman does not offer the kind of insightful description of their speech to make up for the poor dialogue itself. Far too many of the characters have a distinctly British voice - the worst culprit is Tiger. This menacing force is built-up throughout the book as a fearsome physical representation of fear and dread. His foppish use of British English such as "Frankly...we appear to be stuck together" is the kind of understated Britishness that works very well for Hugh Grant characters but not for the personification of violence that is Tiger. Equally, Dragon is a strange character who seems to exist for one joke. Dragon is a raging beast who when foiled describes his circumstance with a menacing "Bother". Dragon should not be middle class English in any way. Dragons appear in many cultures of the world but really hardly in English tradition at all which makes Gaiman's Anglicising and class identifying of this character just horribly lazy.

What works extremely well about Modern Fantasy is when it is believable. A couple of lazy mistakes make disbelief a little harder. Gaiman clearly is not at all familiar with the Caribbean islands because St Andrews is not a viable name for an island. There are no single islands in the Caribbean with a plural name ending in English. Maxwell Gardens is a surprisingly rare name for a street in London but Gaiman really doesn't make the street identifiable so probably has never been to Maxwell Gardens. That oversight is perhaps why Gaiman had to use the clumsy term "main road" when describing how close Fat Charlie is to his apartment on one difficult evening. These details are lacking often through the novel which is a shame. They are not important to the flow of the story which is still a fun read but do mean that it just isn't as believable.

Where Gaiman references other works, it can work very well. The quote from Danny Glover's character in Lethal Weapon is an obvious but fun one. The reference to Kafka's Metamorphoses is one of the cleverest moments in Anansi Boys given the metamorphosing that some of the characters undertake. These and other references build the reality of the world the crazier events take place in. Other things are less impressive - Grahame Coats use of an Arnold J. Rimmer catchphrase does not fit the very different characters involved. The description of 'Binky' Butterworth's use of a very small lift is just a direct description of the lift scene in the home of Roger de Bris during The Producers. The lift is important for Gaiman's construction of a later event but it isn't especially creative to describe exactly a scene and character from another work without it being a reference point. Indeed, the entire story seems to have been "influenced" by a famous Chuck Palahniuk novel which was turned into an even more famous film. The line identifying the differences between Fat Charlie and Spider includes some of the exact same physical disparities in Palahniuk's pairing and that gives away what could possibly have been any kind of twist to the plotline.

However, there is one clear moment of genious - the description of the meaning of folk tales is absolutely excellent. The role of Anansi stories in celebrating innovation and creativity are a hallmark of the key change in human history that occurs with the rise of pastoralist communities of Bantu in Africa. Gaiman's insight into the role that folklore plays is absolutely superb.

The Headline Review publication does not do itself any favours at all with the additional material at the back of the book. The interview with Gaiman is a bit cringeworthy especially when Gaiman indirectly states that he is a genius. The suggested questions for book clubs are horribly academic. While it can be fun to realise at university that the way to pass exams is to state why the question being asked is incorrect, the questions here are far too dry and also full of assumptions. Book clubs are supposed to be fun.

All in all, Anansi Boys is a fun story with a less complex plot than might appear in the early going. It has some nice characters, some of whom are very endearing. The use of ancient folktales is good. It isn't really a great example of modern fantasy and the dialogue in particular is at times terrible. This is a nice, easy going novel with a thought provoking folklore comment tucked inside but it is not a masterpiece and does not compare favourably to Gaiman's American Gods.
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on 9 July 2012
"He ordered a family pack of chicken, and sat and finished it off without any help from anyone else in his family."

Welcome to Fat Charlie's world

Fat Charlie (who isn't fat) had pretty much the perfect life. A job that he liked, a woman that he loved (let's forget about the future mother in-law) and life in London far away from his family.He is also utterly useless. However, when his estranged father dies he is compelled to go to his funeral back in Florida.After the elder Mr. Nancy's funeral, Charlie discovers two things:
His father was Anansi, the story-telling trickster god;
And Charlie was not an only child.

Fat Charlie soon meets his brother, Spider, who is everything that Charlie wishes was, confident, well-liked, and the center of attention( a God...sort of ).
Spider, who inherited their father's powers, immediately moves into Charlie's apartment and begins putting the moves on his fiancée, Rosie. Fat Charlie, desperate to rid himself of his troublesome brother, enlists some unorthodox assistance, and things progress from there.

"There was something about being in the vicinity of Grahame Coats that always made Fat Charlie (a) speak in cliches and (b) begin to daydream about huge black helicopters first opening fire upon, then dropping buckets of flaming napalm onto the offices of the Grahame Coats agency. Fat Charlie would not be in the office in those daydreams. He would be sitting in a chair outside a little cafe on the other side of Aldwych, sipping a frothy coffee and occasionally cheering at an exceptionally well-flung bucket of napalm ."

That's Charlie, just daydreaming. After discovering who/what his brother is, Charlie acts like Ben Stiller in, well...a Ben Stiller movie.It's hilarious .... Charlie is, not Ben.

The characters are great. I felt pretty sorry for Fat Charlie at the beginning but as the story went on, I kind of actually wanted to strangle him.
Neil Gaiman writes fantasy stories without using typical fantasy elements.
No elves and dwarves, no world ending magic and definitely no farm boy with a sword.

Though the book incorporates bits of romantic comedy, crime drama, and horror, among other genres, the heart of the story is the tale of two startlingly different brothers. The reader may be able to keep one or more steps ahead of Fat Charlie, and the book's end should surprise nobody, but that's not a problem.
It's a funny, quick and very, very enjoyable bedtime story for adults.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 August 2014
This is a great fun book which is full of all those things that we all dread. I don't mean large monsters in the cupboard, I mean embarrassing parents, smarter siblings who take over our life, a boss who is trying to frame us, getting arrested.....it is all there but in a wonderfully amusing way.
We start with Fat Charlie Nancy who isn't fat. His very embarrassing father drops dead at a karaoke evening and Charlie's life spirals out of control. Everything that his life was built upon turns out to be illusion. His Father was actually Anansi, the prankster god. He discovers a brother, Spider, who is everything Charlie feels he isn't - amusing, handsome, charming, popular with the girls. Spider moves in and takes over Charlie's life including his fiance. Poor Charlie feels out of control and resorts to desperate measures, with the help of the Voodoo bird woman, to try to regain his life. His efforts are not without consequences.
This book is amusing and clever. Charlie is a fairly ordinary guy, nothing special but likeable enough. He leads a life much like thousands of other people with a flat, a girlfriend and a relatively boring job. However, Charlie comes into his own when faced with loosing it all. Anansi is a wonderful character - just as you would imagine a prankster god to be - should you ever go around imagining such a thing! Then there is Spider, the worst imaginable brother or best friend who is just so popular and makes you feel small.
I loved this book. It was light and easy to read whilst having a good plot and storyline. The characters are wonderful - not just the main ones but also the supporting cast. It is amusing, though not belly-achingly funny. I loved the way that the fantasy world of gods slotted so seamlessly into everyday life. If you are a fan of Terry Pratchett or similar authors then this is the book for you. If you haven't dipped a toe into the wry humour of the fantasy world that is so like our own then why not give this a try.....
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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.
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on 1 October 2009
Is it me or is Gaiman's writing getting lazy? I have been a keen follower of his work right back to the Sandman comics and Good Omens, both of which were 5 star. I thought Neverwhere was another classic. He is capable of really classy writing and good stories, but it's as if he can't quite be bothered to keep up the quality writing. American Gods was good but I noticed a bit of the Dan Brown in his writing with that one. Anansi Boys - it's even worse. For the first time in his works I've seen sentences that even I would be embarrassed to publish. While it is still readable and the surreal storyline distinctly his, like American Gods, I felt that he didn't know where he was going with the plot and could only be bothered writing good prose about half the time.
Please Neil, take twice and long for the next novel and get it right.
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on 5 August 2014
I first read 'Anansi Boys' a few years ago and I am happy to say I enjoy the book now as much I did the first time I read it.

After his death of his father, Fat Charlie returns to Florida for his funeral where he discovers he has a brother, a brother he has never met and all he has to do to meet his brother is to tell a spider that he wants to see his brother unfortunately Fat Charlie does not believe he has a brother until Spider arrives and descends Fat Charlie's life into chaos, steals Fat Charlie's fiancé Rosie, blackmails Fat Charlie's boss which leads to Fat Charlie being arrested, the list goes on.

Fat Charlie decides to get rid of his brother, to make him leave because asking Spider to leave does not work and now Fat Charlie is facing a world of gods.

Fat Charlie and Spider are fantastic characters, two brothers who look alike but don't look alike (if that makes sense). Fat Charlie (who is in fact not fat, he got the name when he was teenager by his Dad), Spider is everything that Fat Charlie is not, he's confident, he does what he wants and he is a god, just like their dad, the god Anansi, the spider god.

As mentioned, I enjoyed this book from start to finish, it was funny, surreal and everything that makes Neil Gaiman's writing great.

I know I will re-read this book.
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on 31 August 2015
It's a testimony to Mr Gaiman's novel how tired I feel today. I started reading this on Friday in the last couple of days of my holiday and I decided I couldn't actually stop reading it until I had read the last half of Anansi Boys in a final sitting on Sunday night which resulted in turning off the kindle at 4am on Monday. More worrying than reading fatigue, though, is what will fill the void now that I've finished it? I'll be downloading another of his books later and hope it's even a little bit as excellent as Anansi Boys.

I really enjoyed the character profiles; the author did a great job building the roles and relationships and I really felt that I knew something of each of them quite quickly, which made me care what happened to them. Nobody was there just as a vehicle for keeping the main characters and the story moving - everyone contributed, even the minor characters and they are all likeable (in their own way).

Minor gripes (and it's probably just me) would be the slightly cliched metaphysical background settings in the alternative dimension and I would have liked a bit more on the seeming mortality of the godly characters. But those things aside, it's a great story well told and I loved it.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 January 2008
You think your dad is embarrassing? Well, at least he isn't an African trickster god -- now that would be nothing but trouble.

But it's what you'd expect of Neil Gaiman, who is best known for his witty, slightly wonky brand of dark fantasy -- and his ability to spin up the most absurd stories in an entertaining fashion. And "Anansi Boys" features Gaiman getting in touch with his lighter, playful more humorous side, in a sort-of-sequel to his smash hit "American Gods."

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.

Trickster gods -- like Anansi, Loki, Kokopelli, or even a bit of Hermes -- are always the most entertaining part of old myths and legends. They're unpredictable, unmistakable, get all the best lines, and perpetually wild'n'crazy -- and they are also the worst kinds of dads you could imagine. They probably wouldn't make wonderful brothers, either.

So of course, Gaiman goes to town with "Anansi Boys," by simply forming a story around that idea: what if a trickster god had two kids, who were nothing alike, but suddenly had to deal with one another? Gaiman also sprinkles it liberally with corporate intrigue, romance, and the old Anansi legends (which he inserts periodically). Don't expect the darker overtones of "American Gods," because this is a very different story.

With this lighter tone, Gaiman sounds a lot like his pal Terry Pratchett, right down to wry humor and on-the-spot comic timing. And the dialogue is pure gold: "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 brother is charming, conscienceless and self-consciously divine in his attitude, and the other is nervy, awkward and painfully mundane. Spider's charm leaps out from the page, while Fat Charlie is sort of Gaiman's "Charlie Brown." Don't worry, Fat Charlie improves as the book goes on.

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 perpetually clever.
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on 12 August 2012
My second Neil Gaiman novel is clearly culled from the same strand of DNA as my first. Like `American Gods', this is a fantasy where the ancient deities of myth and legend genuinely existed, and our lead characters are forced to undertake an epic quest. However the quest in `The Anansi Boys' feels somewhat less epic than in the previous volume. Maybe that's because so much of it takes place in Britain, a country which no longer easily lends itself to the great quest. I bow at the knee to no one in my patriotism to this sceptred isle, but when it appears in `large' films and `grand' books its essential smallness becomes impossible to hide. You save the widescreen stuff for America, or Russia, or the Himalayas; a small TV screen is big enough to handle Britain. I don't know quite why, but Britain always comes across as poky and provincial, with lots of silly place names and less than glamorous accents. Or maybe it's that British people as a rule - and British characters by extension - don't like to make a fuss, and that unruffled quality really does play against the grain of an epic. (I'm early days in this thinking, but if I ever go back to studying English Literature, I will work all this up into a thesis). So that even when `Anansi Boys' broadens its reach and sends characters to Florida and the Caribbean, the British element sabotages all efforts it makes to be truly grandiose.

However it is a constantly amusing, surprising and entertaining read, containing a large dollop of Douglas Adams and a cheeky pinching of P.G. Wodehouse's `gruntled' joke (and who could really hold that against an author?) Perhaps it's a tad too meandering in its pace, but this is a book to curl up with and dream of other places.
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