Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Posted on Wed 21 September 2005 in Dispatches • 3 min read

I have been eagerly waiting the publication of Anansi Boys ever since I read about it over a year ago on Neil Gaiman’s blog. So it was with a great deal of excitement, that I brought home my copy today. I was even a little perturbed at myself for waiting a day to pick it up. However, I set aside my afternoon, ordered out for food and curled up on the futon in my living room to read.

Anansi Boys is an outstanding novel, and may be Gaiman’s strongest yet. His previous forays into writing novels were extremely enjoyable, but were in some ways problematic. Neverwhere was a novelization of his original BBC mini-series, and it really did read like it, resulting in scenes that were best constructed for a visual medium, which occasionally made it difficult for his prose to hold the weight he intended it to. American Gods, which is another wonderful novel, suffered from a few structural difficulties which I think may have more to do with the immense amount of story he was trying to contain in a single book. Both of those novels, which I love very much and have read many times, also suffered from somewhat weak endings. The stories were completed and strong, but they just seemed to peter out and end as opposed to reaching any textual conclusion. It was always apparent to me that these issues were those of an artist developing his craft as he grew experienced with a new medium for his storytelling.

Anansi Boys suffers from none of these problems. In this novel, Gaiman’s craftsmanship produce a work that is structurally tight while still retaining the childlike wonder that is his narrative trademark. I don’t think you could have made me put down the book if you had set my apartment aflame. I devoured the novel in an afternoon.

In this book, Gaiman tells the story of Fat Charlie, the unwitting son of the trickster god, Anansi. Quite simply, it is the story of how Anansi died, and how this event ruined his poor son’s life. Fat Charlie was not close to his father, and in fact wanted nothing to do with him, but in the aftermath of his father’s death, Charlie finds himself drawn into the affairs of the gods with the introduction of a long lost brother. To tell you anymore would spoil this splendid story for you, but it is worth saying that Gaiman’s sure hand with his characters is at work here. You feel their misery, and you experience their joy.

Fat Charlie himself is a wonderful creation, and you feel for him in a way that you never could for Shadow (the protagonist of American Gods) because there is something much more human and believable in Charlie’s actions, even in the midst of the devastatingly magical. You feel for him in all of his awkwardness, and so you revel with him during his moments of grace.

While this particular yarn may have not have the delightfully heady musings on the nature of godhood from his previous novel, it is possibly the strongest story he has told in a prose format. It is quite simply the story of a family, and what happens to that family when the father dies. It is about a son finding his place in the world, and a story of brothers reunited. In short, it is a wonderful read.

In all honesty, you are in for a treat with any of Gaiman’s work, but Anansi Boys has made itself a strong case for being my favorite.

Read the book? Agree/Disagree? Think I am full of it? Leave a comment!