Saturday, February 20, 2010
Neil Gaiman has to be one of my new favorite authors. I was introduced to Gaiman as an undergrad with his Sandman graphic novels. I then read my first novel by him last semester in my Materials for Youth course, The Graveyard Book. Anansi Boys was my first Gaiman novel written for adults. I was not disappointed.
Anansi Boys follows Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy, the son of the god Anansi. Anansi is the trickster spider-god of many tales. And there are several Anansi stories throughout the book.
In the beginning of the novel we learn that Fat Charlie is living and working in London and is engaged to an optimistic girl named Rosie. Fat Charlie, as is evident by his nickname, did not have it easy growing up. His father teased him and played tricks on him. For example, his father got Fat Charlie to dress up as President Taft on Presidents' Day, telling him that all the kids dressed up as their favorite president on that day. That's just the sort of childhood Fat Charlie had until he and his mother moved away from Fat Charlie's childhood home in Florida and moved to London. Fat Charlie's mother dies peacefully several years later and Fat Charlie's father came to say good-bye to her. We learn that they really did love one another.
Fat Charlie worked hard and was under-appreciated, but overall was doing okay for himself. He loved Rosie and was pretty happy with his lot in life. Until he learns that his father died. Fat Charlie then has to fly to Florida for his father's funeral. He hadn't been back to his childhood home since he and his mother left many years earlier. He remembers some of the houses and recognizes the old lady who lived near them, Mrs. Higgler. Mrs. Higgler surprises Fat Charlie by telling him that he has a brother. Fat Charlie thinks this is crazy. "It's true," Mrs. Higgler tells him. "Just tell a spider you want to see your brother, and he will come."
Fat Charlie figures Mrs. Higgler is now old and senile and doesn't pay her much mind. He returns home to London and Rosie. However, he has a thought lurking in the back of his mind that maybe he did have a brother at one point. Fat Charlie figures there's no harm in trying, and he picks up a spider and asks it to bring his brother to him.
The next day a man shows up at Fat Charlie's door. He says his name is Spider and that he's Fat Charlie's brother. Spider seems to be the opposite of Charlie. He's better looking and more charasmatic. He's able to talk his way out of things and can talk people and things into doing what he wants them to do. He's just like Fat Charlie's father. He's the brother who got the God part from their father. Once these brothers meet, madness occurs. Free-wheeling Spider finds that he likes living with Charlie. He likes pretending he is Charlie, and since he can make people think what he wants them to think, he can pretend to be Charlie pretty easily. Spider gets Charlie in trouble at work, he falls in love with Rosie and he adds a hot-tub to Fat Charlie's apartment. Eventually Fat Charlie has had enough with Spider and returns to Florida to talk with Mrs. Higgler and a few other women about ways to get rid of him. This forces Charlie to discover more about his father, his brother and the other gods, and maybe a little about himself too.
Anansi Boys is a pretty quick read filled with humor. The majority of the story is pretty light-hearted, while the final third is a bit darker. There are a few scenes of fairly graphic violence and some swearing throughout. As Gaiman is British, there is some British slang that not all readers may enjoy. (There isn't anymore slang than what readers of Harry Potter have already been introduced to.) This is certainly a fantasy, but it is set in a realistic place for the most part, which is the type of fantasy that I tend to enjoy. More of a mild fantasy, I guess. Overall, this is a fun read that I would highly recommend.