Monday, August 29, 2011

Review-- Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

Title: Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman

Where I got it: Library (in a side note... I went to the library riiiight before Hurricane Irene was projected to hit my area and was tickled pink to see that the parking lot was more crowded than the local grocery store. There were wicked lines of people stocking up on books to help them ride out the storm :)

Why I picked it up: I'm almost ashamed to say that this is my first experience with Gaiman... People I respect have been blogging and talking about him for years now, and I've had him on my TBR wishlist for months and months, but I never felt in the mood. When his name came up (about a bazillion times) on the NPR Top 100 Science Fiction/Fantasy Books List, however, I knew I had to get cracking.

What It's About: I'm not entirely sure how to characterize Anansi Boys (I'm told that's a frequent problem for readers of Gaiman's work...); it's part myth-based fantasy, part family drama, part absurdist comedy, and part romance. Set within the complex world mythology developed in the critically and publicly acclaimed 2003 novel American Gods, the plot of Anansi Boys focuses on the clash of personalities and agendas that occurs when an extremely dysfunctional family is reunited after the death of its patriarch. Given the traumatically embarrassing nature of most of his childhood interactions with his father, Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy almost feels relieved that his father has died and therefore will not be able to attend Charlie's upcoming wedding. His plan to get through the funeral and return to his practical, responsible life in London is set wildly off-track, however, when he learns that his father was not simply an eccentric gadfly, but rather the trickster god Anansi. Shortly following this discovery, the passive, self-effacing Fat Charlie is saddled with a previously unknown brother named Spider who has the enviable and incredibly irritating power of bending the universe to his will. The drama set-off by Anansi's death sends the brothers off on a spiraling adventure through personal, professional and fantastical mishaps as they struggle to negotiate their relationship to one another and to the godly lineage they've inherited. They face danger from enemies of both the human and the other-than-fully-human variety and-- along with a crew of entertaining (if slightly 2-dimensional) supporting characters-- try to bring stability back to the world(s) their father loved to disrupt. Things get very weird, very quickly.

What I Thought: Whoa, Nelly! I felt like I was on a roller coaster while reading this book. Events, relationships, mythological references and mystical abilities seemed to come out of the woodwork every time I turned a page, and I often found myself saying "Wait... What just happened?" and flipping back a couple pages to make sure I actually knew what was going on.  The world mythology structuring the book is incredibly dense, but Gaiman prefers to skate across the surface of that world and allow the reader only occasional glimpses into its depths. This approach--while frustrating at times-- allows readers to piece together their own understanding of the god world and its relationship to the human world while simultaneously ensuring that the plot stays fast-paced and largely character-driven

Speaking of characters... I was shocked that I liked Fat Charlie, Spider and the odd grab-bag of characters they encounter. Fat Charlie begins the book as a spineless, self-effacing little wimp, and Spider is a selfish, inconsiderate jerk.. but somehow (magically?) they grew on me as they grew on each other, and I began to actively root for their success over the forces of evil (and the less malevolent but equally powerful forces of a coven of meddling little old women). It doesn't hurt that the brothers and the unnamed narrator are prone to delivering both hilarious one-liners and beautifully poetic ruminations on the power of stories to structure the universe.

In a way, the book reminded me of a more literary Stephen King story-- it had a similar "epic journey of discovery through a threatening world structured by a complex and contradictory mythology" thing going on. I'd compare it to the early books in King's Dark Tower series (and that's high praise considering how much I love the first four books in that group!).

Select quotes: "Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each."

"Charlie filled his lungs and he began to sing. 'I am Charlie," he sang. "I am Anansi's son. Listen as I sing my song. Listen to my life.'
He sang them the song of a boy who was half a god, and who was broken into two by an old woman with a grudge. He sang of his father, and he sang of his mother.
He sang of names and words, of the building blocks beneath the real, the worlds that make worlds, the truths beneath the way things are; he sang of appropriate ends and just conclusions for those who would hurt him and his.
He sang the world."

Recommendation: 4/5 I would recommend this book to anyone interested in world mythologies, fantasy-based adventures and dark humor.


  1. This was also my first experience with Neil Gaiman, and I was pretty much blown away by it. I'm glad you liked it!
    I definitely agree with being a little frustrated by the way Gaiman "skates across the surface" of this world he's created. I just want to know everything about it! But it's also fun to be able to come up with our own interpretations and have our own realizations. Ugh, I wish I could write as well as he does, haha. (:

  2. One of these days I really must read this. It has been on my TBR pile forever! I wanted to read American Gods first because I understand this is connected, but I haven't done that yet either. I need more hours in my day...

  3. Great that you liked this book! Comparing it to the Dark Tower series really is high praise - though I am not sure whom I like better, Gaiman or King. I loved American Gods when I read it, but I liked Anansi Boys better! Mr. Nancy was my favourite character in American Gods, and it was great reading a book based on him. Since you said this is your first experience with Gaiman, I am assuming you didn't read American Gods; you really should!!
    Hope you enjoy all the books you read for the R.I.P Challenge just as much!

  4. As a long time fan of Neil Gaiman, and one who adores this book, I am always surprised when people read it as their first Gaiman book as it is not the one that I would recommend. Still, I'm glad to hear that you liked it.

    I hadn't thought about the myth/folklore stuff not being deeply explained but I think that is because I had already read the Sandman series and American Gods and so had a little bit of an education of the mythology from those books.

    I really enjoyed Anansi Boys because it felt like an amalgam of several kinds of books, including those of P.G. Wodehouse, which Gaiman admits to paying homage to. The relationships and the thread of romance that was woven through it felt very much like what I see in some of the Wodehouse novels.

    You've started with a great one for the R.I.P. Challenge. I hope they keep on as well. And if you are interested in more Gaiman and short stories you should consider joining us for the Fragile Things group read.

  5. What a great review. Like Carl said, I find this an interesting selection for starting a relationship with Gaiman. Anansi Boys was a fun-yet-confusing novel, but definitely fast paced and enjoyable.

    If you liked this, definitely check out American Gods. Equally disorienting, but even more fun.