Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 2005

It's about: Our protagonist, Fat Charlie Nancy, is an unambitious, painfully shy Englishman of American origin. When his estranged father dies unexpectedly, Fat Charlie travels to his childhood hometown in Florida to attend the funeral. Here Fat Charlie learns from an old family friend that he has a brother. He is told that if he wishes to meet his brother, he need only mention it to a spider. Back in London, Fat Charlie drunkenly tells a spider he'd like to meet his brother. The next day, said brother (a handsome and charismatic man named Spider) shows up and starts mucking about in Fat Charlie's life. Adventures ensue.

[Note: Anansi Boys is a spin-off of an earlier Neil Gaiman novel called American Gods, but it's not a sequel or a prequel or anything. I mean, there would be no reason to read one book before the other.]

I thought: I suppose I'm going to have to stop saying that I don't read Fantasy, because this is the third book I've read by Neil Gaiman and I'm not sorry to admit it. But Gaiman is so far removed from what I consider traditional Fantasy (dragons and faire maidens and... well, LotR) that I think he deserves a different category. His books are set within our own real world, but with a sort of magical overlay. In this sense, Gaiman reminds me of Magical Realism more than Fantasy, though he relies more heavily on magic than, say, Gabriel García Márquez does. [I'm not sure I understand where Magical Realism ends and Fantasy begins. Can somebody enlighten me?]
Anyway, Anansi Boys. It's very clever and dryly funny. It has sympathetic, dynamic characters and smart references to West African mythology and folklore. The plotting is brilliant, there's some nice foreshadowing, and then a real page-turner of a climax. It's a quick, exciting read, and I enjoyed it. Anansi Boys is very different from American Gods in that it is lighthearted and tightly-woven, and I found the characters far more likeable.
BUT. I do have some complaints. I couldn't overlook the occasional line of cheesy, action-movie-ish dialogue, and most of the dénouement was almost sickeningly sweet. I'm not a big fan of the cover design (not the author's fault). And, to be honest, magical fiction just isn't really my personal favorite.

Verdict: Hm... Yeah, I'm going to stick it on the shelf. It's well-written and you won't be sorry you read it. Neil Gaiman is one of the best in his class, and Anansi Boys doesn't disappoint.

Reading Recommendations: Suspend your disbelief!
If you want to supplement, I recommend one of my favorite picture books, "A Story, A Story" (It's a Caldecott Medal Winner, so any public library should have at least one copy.)
Anansi's Wikipedia article is interesting.
And of course, if you like Anansi Boys you can check out American Gods.

Warnings: Some innuendo, a bit of violence, a little language. Nothing horribly offensive, but it's not squeaky-clean either.

Favorite excerpts:
"He could see the sunrise beginning, a huge blood orange of a morning sun surrounded by gray clouds tinged with scarlet. It was the kind of sky that makes even the most prosaic person discover a deeply buried urge to start painting in oils."

And the best dedication page I've ever read:
"You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author has dedicated a book to someone else and not you.
Not this time.
Because we haven't yet met/have only a glancing acquaintance/are just crazy about each other/haven't seen each other in much too long/are in some way related/will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other...
this one's for you.
With you know what, and you probably know why."

What I'm reading next: Waffle Street by James Adams