by Rajan Khanna
Sometimes I hate Neil Gaiman. As a writer, what bothers me the most is the seeming ease with which he tells stories. It's obvious that he's a natural storyteller, with what feels like the perfect authorial voice. That natural ease and fitting voice are showcased very nicely in his latest novel, Anansi Boys.
Anansi Boys is the story of a man called Fat Charlie, and yet it is also the story of Anansi, because as Gaiman tells us, all stories are Anansi stories*. Some people have been calling this book a sequel to American Gods, but to paraphrase Gaiman, it's a story that has a character who also appeared in American Gods. So they share the same world but they aren't necessarily connected.
That character is the aforementioned Anansi, the Spider God, the trickster, introduced in American Gods as Mr. Nancy. The book opens with Fat Charlie Nancy, his son - an average guy with a crappy job, a mundane life, a fear of being noticed, and a fiancée who won't sleep with him. Fat Charlie has had a troubled relationship with his father, but after much agonizing decides to invite him to the upcoming wedding only to find out that his father is dead. As the story unfolds, Charlie starts to realize that there is more to his life than he knew, and learns of the unique peculiarities of his family.
I won't say anymore so as not to spoil it for anyone, but Gaiman calls on the rich tradition of African myths and weaves them seamlessly into Charlie's story. Again, he modifies his voice as he tells these stories so they feel more authentic and natural. While these myths and stories could seem jarring, they integrate well into the story, helping to illuminate parts of it, helping to give it more background.
This is Neil Gaiman by way of Kurt Vonnegut. That's not a comparison that I've made before, but the humorous tone of the book, the aggregation of coincidence, they all gave the book a Vonnegut vibe. I suppose it's not surprising. Both authors have such unique voices. You generally know when you're reading a Vonnegut book. Gaiman's voice is a different one, but similarly unique and present. That's not to say that all of his books sound the same, but they all have a certain Gaiman-ness to them that adapts to fit the tone of the book.
It's such an easy read that I found myself unable to put it down. It was one of those books where I kept telling myself, "Just one more chapter, one more..." It's light reading, not because it's lacking substance or content, but because it's so damn entertaining. And part of that is due to the humor in the book. This is a funny book - not in the same vein as, say, Terry Pratchett - but there are some parts that may make you laugh out loud. I have a sometimes difficult relationship with 'funny' books - they have a tendency to leave me cold. This one worked; the humor was natural, coming from the situations which, while including gods and strange animals and magic, are often those that we can relate to.
And yet it's not all humor. There's some mystery in the book, a touch of creepy horror. There's romance and crime. And of course, magic. We are talking about Neil Gaiman here. He somehow manages to keep the magic understated while still maintaining a sense of wonder with it. He is, essentially, remaking myths for a modern tale.
My only criticism of the book, if pressed, would be that I never really felt a true sense of menace, and much of the ending of the book was telegraphed earlier on. However, this never really bothered me. The story never bogs down and I kept on reading, wanting to get to the end, wanting to see if it was what I was expecting.
I loved American Gods, and it might be my favorite of Neil Gaiman's prose works, but I had much more fun reading Anansi Boys. I get the feeling that Gaiman had more fun writing it, too.
Anansi Boys is scheduled for release on Tuesday, September 20 at a bookseller near you.
* The stories used to belong to someone else, but you'll have to find out who in the book.
Posted by YourMomsBasement at September 14, 2005 11:12 AM