For some reason, there are people who don’t seem to like the genre-melding in Anansi Boys. A sort of spin-off of American Gods, the novel mixes elements of the supernatural and magic along with mystery and drama which is apparently too much for some people to handle. If that’s the case, then I’m not surprised why my Will’s Downfall novels have such a low readership.
In any case, Anansi Boys tells the story of Fat Charlie; who is actually the son of the spider god Anansi. At the beginning of the book, we find that he has recently died in a very comical, yet befitting way of the god, who is a sort of trickster and quite lewd in any case. Gaiman’s approach is fantastical, the way that he dazzles each and every page with a sort of uniqueness is uncanny to anything I’ve ever read, making this book entirely one of a kind. When you hear about Anansi bringing the big brass band into his mother’s hospital bed and Fat Charlie leaving what looked to be a disaster to find that a massive party had ensued right there in the hospital, you start to get a feel of his father’s powers. He also had the ability to increase the longevity of his wife’s remaining years and allowed her to travel the entire world, right before she died.
But Fat Charlie doesn’t have these kinds of powers. For the most part, he’s just a regular old Joe who works as an accountant for a man by the name of Grahame Coats. He’s a real asshole in my opinion, which fits him perfectly as the book’s antagonist when the guy loses his mind later in the novel. He has feelings for a woman by the name of Rosie, but Rosie’s mother doesn’t actually approve much of their relationship. She spends the most of her time in the book telling Rosie that Charlie’s going to end up in prison one day (which coincidentally, he does) and that she should find a much better man, eventually offering to take her on a cruise in which she would handpick a man out for her daughter. This sort of thing is not entirely uncommon, and I’m sure it happens more than we realize.
This was all well and good and neat, but the book became a burden… well, up until the introduction of one character: Spider. Spider is Fat Charlie’s brother. He’s the one who was given the magic that Anansi had, but was pulled away by Louella Dunwiddy one of the four witches, (and they certainly are witches, yet in the most natural of descriptions) Mrs. Bustamonte, Mrs. Dunwiddy, Mrs. Noles and Mrs. Higgler. These four elderly women play a major part in Charlie’s story, allowing him to go back in time to when the world began, through their unconventional (but whatever works) approach to ritual magic. Spider was a bit of a troublemaker, so he was simply cast away until Fat Charlie decided that he would ask a spider (yes, an actual arachnid) to see his brother again, noticing that the spider did acknowledge the request. Lo and behold, Fat Charlie’s long lost brother, Spider finally appears. And when he does, the book starts to snag you in. His notion of the three things (Wine, Women and Song) that a man needs to overcome grief is still one of my personal favorite chapters in the piece, as Spider manages to pull an archaic wine from the wine cellar that was said to have had the tears of virgins dropped into it, and he also manages to become draped in women after visiting a club. Yes, I do mean draped. I could literally see the world through Charlie’s eyes at the moment, wondering to himself “How in the hell did that happen?” You’d have thought he was Billy Idol or Mick Jagger draped in all of those women. Add to that the “song” portion of the book where Spider decides that he’s going to sing karaoke and it’s done so well that people are cheering and shouting in revelry as if they’d just witnessed some kind of concert performance. Finally, Fat Charlie decides to go up there on stage but is unable to sing a note, falling from the stage and onto the floor due to his massive drunken stupor. It’s my luck, so I could certainly identify with him at that point. Sometimes you actually encounter people like this in your walk through life – people that seem to “have it” and you wonder exactly there they got “it” from. Perhaps there’s a magic potion in some remote cave in the Himalaya’s called “IT” and when you drink it, you’ll have that ability too.
When Fat Charlie wakes up, he finds that he is at home and in bed. But he’s not alone in that bed and one of the women is there with him – sans everything of course. No, there was no sort of sex there – she was apparently one of Spider’s “after dinner mints” and Spider found that he had not the time for her. This woman becomes a major part of the story (which I hadn’t assumed in all honesty) and Fat Charlie becomes smitten with her. As such, Spider becomes smitten with Rosie. Odd how that happens. But there is much more to this woman he called “vodka and orange” to meets the eye. I’d have never guessed that this “Daisy” was actually a police officer who eventually winds up on the trail of Charlie’s boss (Grahame Coats) who thought it a wonderful thing to launder money so that he could go off to a small Caribbean island under assumed name, blaming the whole thing on Fat Charlie, of course. An innocent man gets hauled off to prison, while a felon gets the life of luxury, living out the rest of his days on the warm, sunny beaches of Saint Andrews… That is, until one of his clients gets too suspicious and finds herself murdered by Coats with a blunt object. A famous celebrity, Maeve Livingstone finds herself dissatisfied with her own death and decides that she is going to continue to “haunt” until she gets to the bottom of this – until her murderer gets what’s coming to him. Of course, Maeve didn’t believe in life after death. But she has no choice but to believe in it now.
This all might sound like a huge jumble – ancient stories, ghosts, magic, murder and romance drama – but it made one heck of a good read. Gaiman says himself that people consider this vast merging of styles sloppy in the literary world, even though it’s all perfectly normal in life. The book flows, despite all of it’s jumps and I try to do that with my own novels that feature the same sort of jumping from character to character and situation to situation. Variety is the spice of life, and how Gaiman pulled this off and made it all stick is truly miraculous… but it kept me guessing, right up until the end.
Keep in mind that I’ve only just covered the surface of the novel, as there is so much more here that is best left up for you to discover. I felt as if I could visualize each one of these characters a great deal, like a film was playing in my head as I desperately battled sleep in an attempt to reveal it’s conclusion.
While a spin-off to American Gods might have been something of a weird notion for Gaiman, (we’d think he’d been running out of tricks after that one) Anansi Boys proves to be just as good and completely unique in its own right. I’ve never read anything quite like it and it definitely backs King’s statement that “[Gaiman] is, simply put, a treasure-house of story, and we are lucky to have him in any medium.” With Stephen King marketing your book for you, how could it not turn into a success? Also, the release of the American Gods TV series is also sure to bring in additional readers eager to learn more about the world that Gaiman has constructed.
I would consider Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys a definite recommend to anyone who is looking for something entirely unique and entirely off-the-collar from the normal gamut of American literature. At the very least; it’s not something that you’re going to forget anytime soon, that’s for sure. It’ll also change your mind about Gaiman, as he is not just a children’s author (most notably famous for Coraline) and has the capability to write some rather saucy adult novels as well.
Rating: It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before and grabs you in when you least expect it, pulling you until the very last page. A surefire 10/10!