Surprise! I love, love, loved this book. Anansi Boys is a bloody good story, full of joy and wit and wisdom, all about the power of stories. It feels like pure, perfect Neil Gaiman: fully entrenched in the power of myth and folklore and the forgotten gods, reimagining them in contemporary society, telling a story about storytelling with a knowing wink. Anansi is a spider god, the spirit of all knowledge and stories… as the cover promises, God is dead; meet the kids.
Fat Charlie Nancy is rather long suffering, and is having a tough week. His estranged father just keeled over on a karaoke stage – a way to go obviously designed to embarrass him – and left Fat Charlie with quite an inheritance. Fat Charlie’s dad is the trickster spider-god Anansi, the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn social order, baffle the devil, create wealth out of thin air. This leaves Fat Charlie quite the legacy to grapple with.
It is an epic, trans-Atlantic journey from here for our reluctant hero. Against his will, this story is full of misrule and energy, as the parts of his life he has forgotten or ignored scream through at him in joyous, anarchic ways. The spirit of his father infuses this book, causing tricks beyond the grave.
The plot is about Fat Charlie, but the meaning comes from Anansi. He is such an important god because he who controls the stories controls the world. There is a basic, exploitable, human drive for narrative as a way of remembering and understanding our world; Anansi was not necessarily the one who created the stories, but he put his brilliance and wiles into the stories that were previously all about survival.
“‘…Anansi won the stories…He took them from Tiger, and made it so Tiger couldn’t enter the real world no more. Not in the flesh. The stories people told became Anansi stories. This was, what, ten, fifteen thousand years back.
‘Now, Anansi stories, they have wit and trickery and wisdom. So, all over the world, all of the people, they aren’t just thinking of hunting and being hunted any more. Now they’re starting to think their way out of problems…Some people think the first tools were weapons, but that’s all upside down. First of all, people figure out the tools. It’s the crutch before the club, every time. Because now people are telling Anansi stories, they’re starting to think about how to get kissed, how to get something for nothing by being smarter or funnier. That’s when they start to make the world.'”
Anansi gave more meaning to the stories, added intrigue and playfulness and smarts, and because of that made a better, far more entertaining world.
And you can use this understanding to how the spirit of Anansi fills this book, and Fat Charlie’s story. It is an exhilarating read, startling the imagination into places unknown. While rollicking, it is also generous. Gaiman is such a deft touch at this balance between massively funny and totally kind, all bedded with a deep knowledge of the roots of the story, the sense of place, the history to the narrative. This is a fully imagined, fully whole place which Gaiman just immerses you into.
It is also very silly, and quite funny. I laughed out loud on public transport an embarrassing number of times, which is saying something because this book only took be about 24 hours to finish.
“‘What are you scared of?’ asked Rosie.
Spider looked out of the window. ‘Birds,’ he said, eventually.
‘But birds are our friends,’ said Rosie, as if addressing a small child.
‘Birds,’ Spider said, ‘are the last of the dinosaurs. Tiny velociraptors with wings. Devouring defenceless wiggly things and, and nuts, and fish, and, and other birds. They get the early worms. And have you ever watched a chicken eat? They may look innocent, but birds are, well, they’re vicious.'”
The ridiculousness, the indignant tone, the coddling; Gaiman balancing the humour with affection. Perfect.
Folklore helped shape the world, gave meaning to it. For some cultures Anansi was the key to not just those stories that gave us our humanity, but the key behind all storytelling, all narratives that we use to describe and define and entertain ourselves. I just love revelling in how smart Gaiman is: he uses this storytelling legacy on so many levels in this book, and there is such joy infused as he does it. The pleasure he takes in the melding of myth and humour, folklore and ruse, kindness and mischievousness just comes out of every page. It is a genius story about storytelling.