Review: 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 dad’s 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?

Review

To describe Neil Gaiman’s style of storytelling to someone who has not read any of his work, a description like the following could be given: Gaiman’s stories are like Terry Pratchett’s, though set in the modern world. The likeness is apt, as both authors are superb story tellers, wonderfully insightful, keenly intelligent and incredibly funny.

While comparisons between the two authors are appropriate to describe a to a new comer the general shape of the ride they will be taken on, it is unfair to Gaiman to cast him in to Terry Pratchett’s long and dark shadow. Gaiman’s work stands up on its own and stands very tall indeed.

All stories used to be Tiger stories. They were all about blood, violence, hunting and death. The world was a dark, dark place. Then, slowly, Anansi began to steal the stories. Anansi the Spider was clever, cunning, tricky, charming and funny. He wove his web around everything and everyone; wove in to their hearts and into their minds. Being a joker though, he also made lots of enemies. Anansi Boys is also an Anansi story.

Anansi Boys is about Fat Charlie Nancy. Fat Charlie is an ordinary man living in an ordinary world. He works in a dull but enjoyable job and is about to get married to a woman he is deeply in love with. Nothing of true note has happened in his mostly solitary life. He avoids thinking about his father as much as possible, because of the embarrassing and humiliating memories such thoughts dredge up. Even his highly embarrassing and not particularly accurate nickname “Fat Charlie” suck to him like superglue after his father thought it up.

Word reaches Charlie that his father has died. Charlie travels to America where he attends the funeral, and stays on for a short while to chat with some of his father’s acquaintances and neighbours. There, he learns two facts that shake him out of his world and change his life forever.

Anansi Boys is something of a spin off from American Gods, a previous offering also by Neil Gaiman. Anansi made several appearances throughout the book, and now has, thematically at least, his own story. No prior knowledge of American Gods is required to enjoy Anasi Boys however.

Anansi Boys is dark, witty, thoughtful, clever, humourous and occasionally disturbing. It is also well set out in terms of chronology, pacing and character development. There are several plot lines that are followed throughout the narrative, and none of them ever become confusing or stale. The flashbacks and asides are also done at appropriate moments, and serve to pace the story nicely.

Gaiman is a wordsmith of impeccable quality, and when reading Anansi Boys, he makes it very easy to get drawn in and to begin to not even see the words. The writing style has a certain dreamlike, hypnotic cadence to it. The scenes roll past the mind’s eye like a movie; a sure sign of a great book. Occult overtones are added to the whole mix, adding a surreal and magical feeling.

The various subplots and themes work well together. There are elements of discovery, mystery, murder and journey stories woven together. Indeed, each of the main characters develops satisfyingly and believably throughout the book. Despite the sorcery and witchcraft going on characters are realistically rendered and react to the bizarre situations in which they find themselves credibly and convincingly.

The mythos of the book is interesting, and of a variety not frequently explored in western culture. The basis for the mythology is West African and Caribbean in origin, and not heavy on Voodooism. The inspiring tales are older, more light hearted and somehow feel more pure than the quite dark Voodoo lore. While some of the legends have a more sinister side, Anansi Boys never gets too bogged down in this facet, and always bounces back with joviality and verve.

All in all, Anansi Boys is a book that must be experienced. It will have readers laughing out loud, grinning along with private in-jokes of the characters, sitting on the edges of their seats and frantically flicking pages to discover what happens next, loathing certain characters even as they long to find out more about them, reminiscing for times past and believing that music can change the world and that gods walk amongst men. It is a near perfect piece of writing that will satisfy many diverse needs and desires and leave a pleasant afterglow at the conclusion.

Read Anansi Boys now.

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Demographic: Young Adult and up
  • Rating Out of Five: 5
  • Format: Paperback
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: September, 2005

7 thoughts on “Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

    • Hi Patricia,

      Thank you very much for your comments. This was my first Neil Gaiman book. I’d heard a few people recommend him and decided to follow up on those suggestions. I was most pleasantly surprised. I hope that you do end up adding Anansi Boys to your reading list. I found it well worth my time.

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  1. I wouldn’t say American Gods is unfocused, but it is rambling. I enjoyed it, though perhaps not as much as Anansi Boys. Tune in on Monday for my American Gods review, it may help calm your mind.

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    • I’ve just finished reading American Gods (review coming soon!) and it’s quite different to Anansi Boys. American Gods is far more rambling and, for want of a better word, unfocused. Anansi Boys tells a clear story that is pretty clearly defined. Although both do share several attributes with each other, they are still only tangentially connected. Anansi Boys is also shorter than American Gods.

      As I’ve stated in the review, I highly recommend reading this book. It’s great.

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      • American Gods is one of the books coming up for my book club! I’m disconcerted by it being unfocused & I’ve read other Gaiman books, but wasn’t mad about them. It still sounds like an interesting story and I’m considering giving Anansi Boys a shot too.

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