(2005/2021) Neil Gaiman, Headline, £8.99, pbk, 474pp, ISBN 978-0-755-30509-4
“God’s dead, meet the kids”, I remember being a great punch line on the jacket of the original hardback of Anansi Boys (2005), and those five words sum up the plot. Anansi, the African trickster, spider god who featured in Gaiman’s American Gods is dead, and he has two sons. Well, one really, split into two by an old woman bearing a grudge. One son is Fat Charlie, who isn’t fat at all, but was called that by his father, and when you are given a nickname by a god it tends to stick. Charlie has a vaguely settled life with a fiancée called Rosie, and a job with a company run by Grahame Coats, a crooked, sly theatrical agent. Charlie has lived in London since he was ten, when his parents split up. He didn’t like his father who seemed larger than life, who seemed to be able to breeze through events with charm and a great singing voice, with a confidence that Charlie doesn’t have.
Reluctantly, because of his forthcoming marriage and Rosie’s insistence that his father should be at the wedding, Charlie tries to track him down and learns he has just died and travels to America for the funeral where he finds out that his father was the Spider God, Anansi, and he has…a brother! His brother is called Spider who turns up out of nowhere and turns Charlie’s life upside down because he’s inherited the trickster side of Anansi. , Soon Spider is passing himself off as Charlie, bedding Charlie’s fiancée Rosie, and uncovering proof of Graham’s swindling. Meanwhile the police are looking into the swindling case, and Rosie’s mum is even more unfriendly to this changed Charlie, and Charlie is attracted to Rosie the policewoman investigating Grahame, and then Charlie because Grahame tries to set up Charlie as the fall guy and take the rap for all his swindling. All we need are revolving doors and some dropped trousers and we would be well into farce territory. No wonder P. G. Woodhouse is one of the writers Gaiman tips a hat to at the start of the book.
As usual Gaiman weaves various sub plot strands involving romance, mistaken identify, family bonds, revenge and criminality and brings them all to a satisfying conclusion in his best storytelling, conversational way as things become more serious and the fantastical elements head towards a climax. In keeping with other editions of his work, there are some group discussions questions at the end of the novel and a short interview with Gaiman himself, but no mention of the recent announcement from Amazon that Anansi Boys is being turned into a series. Although special mention must be made about the fantastic cover illustration of a snarling tiger by Leo Nickolls. Why a tiger? Well, a long time ago, the Spider tricked the Tiger into giving him control of all the world’s stories, and did you really think the old striped-one was going to let him away with it, even if the old boy is gone, there are always his offspring to get revenge on.
All in all, Anansi Boys is funny, is farcical, is a comic, fantasy novel, nowhere near as dark as American Gods, or as “out there” as Neverwhere, it’s as Gaiman put it himself: "it's probably a magical-horror-thriller-ghost-romantic-comedy-family-epic." When it first came out he novel won the British Fantasy Award for 'Best Novel' in 2006. Meanwhile, its BBC Radio 4 radio play incarnation won a British Fantasy Award for 'Best Audio' in 2018. Nuff said, recommended.
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