Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
God is dead. Meet the Kids.
Fat Charlie Nancy is one of life’s more unassuming individuals; his life is predictably unexciting (the way he prefers it), with a dull, easy job and an impending marriage to a very nice girl to look forward to, although his fiancé’s insistence on abstinence before marriage is somewhat exasperating for our dear Charlie. Besides Fat Charlie’s father’s recent, and most embarrassing, demise whilst indulging in some raunchy er… Karaoke with several giggling blonde tourists, Charlie is beginning to believe that life may actually be starting to look good for him, in his own self-consciously humble and apologetic way. However, and wouldn’t you just know it, Charlie’s troubles are only just beginning.
For, you see, at his father’s funeral, Charlie discovers that his father was in fact a god, “no not The God, just a god” - Anansi to be precise. Anansi is a storytelling and trickster god in the Loki mould. However Anansi is the original, the Spider god of the first men in Africa, whose gods were animalistic personifications of perceived ideals, characteristics and fears. As if this is not enough for poor old Charlie, he also discovers he has a brother, Spider, who has inherited all their father’s charm, zest, narcissism and weakness for a pretty girl. The resulting escapade is a plunge into a mythology and mysticism that is a common thread through all Neil Gaiman’s works, a world with a whole plethora and pantheon of gods or godlike mythical beings (The Sandman anyone?); a slightly skewed, yet vividly drawn fantastical universe where all is definitely not as it seems.
Whereas Gaiman’s previous ‘adult novel’ American Gods is a dark, intense and disturbingly violent trawl through the seedy underbelly of forgotten gods and rival pantheons in the American sub-theistic sphere, Anansi Boys on the other hand is much lighter in tone, exploring more personal themes with an infectious humour similar to that found in Gaiman’s previous collaboration with a Mr Pratchett - Good Omens (there are even humorous footnotes). As Fat Charlie Nancy comes to know and accept his place and that of his dysfunctional family group, the obvious messages of family, personal change through adversity etc are easy to see and appreciate. However Gaiman’s writing is such that he doesn’t allow such sentiments to interfere with the story, rather they are interwoven into the web of the story with refinement and tact through great characterisations: Spider’s sympathetically subtle journey from strutting egocentric to selfless brother, as well as the almost comic villainy of Graham Coats.
Indeed, there is a certain pleasure in Gaiman drawing attention to the storytellers’ weapon of ‘coincidence’, the deus ex machine (God in the machine) and utilising it as an essential conceptual element in this novel. For that is what fiction is, a web woven together by an author with the power to shape it, and there are few more inventive and imaginative weavers than Gaiman.