Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Fat Charlie Nancy is not actually fat. He was fat once but he is definitely not fat now. No, right now Fat Charlie Nancy is angry, confused and more than a little scared right now his life is spinning out of control, and it is all his dads fault.

If his rotter of an estranged father hadn't dropped dead at a karaoke night, Charlie would still be blissfully unaware that his dad was Anansi the spider god. He would have no idea that he has a brother called Spider, who is also a god. And there would be no chance that said brother would be trying to take over his life, flat and fiancee
, or, to make matters worse, be doing a much better job of it than him. Desperate to reclaim his life, Charlie enlists the help of four more-than-slightly eccentric old ladies and their unique brand of voodoo and between them they unleash a bitter and twisted force to get rid of Spider. But as darkness descends and badness begins is Fat Charlie Nancy going to get his life back in one piece or is he about to enter a whole netherworld of pain?
Goodreads description

I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman's writing ever since I found Neverwhere on a bookshelf in a flat I was staying in for a city break. Instead of visiting the sights I spent a whole day in the nearest cafe reading the book. I just loved the dark edge to his writing. American Gods followed, which was even darker and which I enjoyed even more. I also enjoyed Good Omens, the book that Neil Gaiman wrote with Terry Pratchett.

Gaiman's books to my mind stand on the fantasy edge of magic realism. In American Gods the settlers to the New World brought with them the gods of their homelands. These gods exist unrecognised alongside mortals but they retain much of their power. Anansi Boys picks up on this theme, but focuses on one god - Anansi, the trickster spider god brought from Africa to America and the Caribbean. Fat Charlie Nancy is a typical Gaiman central character - an ordinary sort of guy who discovers that he has hidden reserves and talents. There is nothing groundbreaking in this book therefore; Gaiman is following a successful formula. 

The main difference is the tone. Gone is the darkness of his earlier works and instead the treatment is often humourous and the characters are more predictable, even on occasion somewhat two-dimensional. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy reading this book - I did. It was just a less demanding and inspiring read and whereas I still have memories of scenes in Neverwhere and American Gods (even though I haven't read them for years) I know it won't be the same with this book. 

This a great book to take on holiday. Preferably take it on holiday to a small Caribbean island, such as the one on which the book ends. This is a mellow story suited to the Caribbean god, which slips down like a cocktail. There are some great lines to have you chuckling over your drink: It was not that he was feckless, more that he had simply not been around the day they handed out feck.  

The book is less about the interaction between the gods and men, as was the case with American Gods, as it is about storytelling and the power of song. Anansi's power lies in his ability to tell stories and this is transferred to his son.

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.

What’s that? You want to know if Anansi looked like a spider? Sure he did, except when he looked like a man.

No, he never changed his shape. It’s just a matter of how you tell the story. That’s all. 

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