Anansi Boys


Neil Gaiman




Date Reviewed:

April 3, 2007

hat a remarkable storyteller Neil Gaiman is. He reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut or John Irving or maybe William Goldman - they use deceptively simple words to start spinning a story, and before you know it, you find yourself sucked right in. You read page after page, always interested in finding out what happens next. Anansi Boys is not a thriller, there isn't pulse pounding drama or surprising plot twists; instead, Gaiman tells a straightforward tale about Fat Charlie and his problems with his dad and his brother Spider, whom he never knew he had. I raced through this book, finishing in a couple of nights. This is a character driven tale. It is great fun to read.

Fat Charlie is an ordinary young man working at a dull accounting job in London. He has moved there to escape from the antics of his father, who always seemed to embarrass Fat Charlie with his pranks. The pranks are not mean, they are humorous, but nevertheless Fat Charlie lives across the ocean because he has decided he is done with such humor. For example, when Fat Charlie was a kid, his dad convinced him that on President's Day all the kids dressed up as their favorite president and wore that costume to school. Usually kids would dress up as Washington or Lincoln, but Fat Charlie's dad convinces him to be different - and gets him to dress up like President Taft, the 300 lb twenty-seventh president of the United States. So Fat Charlie gets a big suit, stuffs a couple of pillows into the outfit and wears it to school - only to discover that none of the other kids dress up like a president on President's Day. Fat Charlie is mortified. Isn't that great stuff to read? No wonder I kept turning the pages.

Gaiman does a wonderful job of developing the characters of Fat Charlie, Rosie, his girl friend / fiancee, his brother Spider, Grahame Coates, who is his evil boss, a bunch of old ladies that live in Florida near his dad. I especially liked Gaiman's portrayal of Rosie's mother - Fat Charlie is clearly not good enough to marry her daughter, and she despises him. The unlikable mother-in-law is one of the most stereotyped characters in fiction, yet the way Gaiman presents her is so fun that the mother-in-law-to-be comes across as an original character.

It turns out that Fat Charlie's dad is more than just a prankster. His dad is Anansi, the trickster god. Alas, not even gods are immortal, and when Fat Charlie's dad dies (in a suitably amusing/embarrassing fashion), Fat Charlie flies to Florida for the funeral. There he is informed that he has a brother named Spider, whom he never met. Spider has inherited the magical powers of a trickster god, and unlike the law abiding, hard working Fat Charlie, Spider has no compunctions about bending the rules to suit his own ends. As soon as Spider enters Fat Charlie's life, the result is the most delightful chaos.

The word heartwarming is certainly over-used, but it genuinely describes this novel. Fat Charlie is sympathetic guy, he seems like a worthy character deserving of our attention. Some coincidences are needed to get all the characters in one place for the big ending, but that is just part of the charm of this story telling style. I like this book.