ANANSI BOYS By Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Francis Vallejo,
Folio Society, h/b £75.00,
Reviewed by HT Scott
Charles Nancy or ‘Fat Charlie’ is an office worker, engaged to Rosie and genuinely planning on marrying her. Whilst planning their wedding and at the behest of Rosie he sets about trying to contact his estranged father and inviting him to his wedding. Charlie starts by contacting Mrs Higgler an old family friend in Florida, whom he hasn’t seen since he lived there as a boy. Unfortunately for Charlie he is told by Mrs Higgler that he’s too late and his dad has passed away, albeit from being mid song, falling off a stage and into the clevage of a large bosomed woman. His funeral is tomorrow and can Charlie make it?
In Anansi boys Neil Gaiman has taken the character Anansi the spider god from his American Gods book and written a story that at times had me laugh out loud and receive some very judgmental looks.
Charlie travels across the atlantic to Florida for the funeral and opens up a whole can of worms, or should I say spiders. Upon his arrival he goes straight to the funeral and things go even more awry. Firstly, he goes to the wrong funeral and it’s not until Mrs Higgler further embarasses him by fetching him from the wrong graveside to that of his fathers that he realises he’s missed his fathers funeral altogether. However, the ever reliable Mrs Higgler has saved him a shovel and tells him to get on with filling in his dad’s grave. Then she takes him home to feed him. Back at the house Mrs Higgler and Charlie are joined by Mrs Dunwiddy, Mrs Bustamonte, and Miss Noles. These four old ladies with a presence and magic all their own regale Charlie with tales about his father from back in the day. They also tell him about how his dad was a god, the spider god Anansi. All this along with the revelation that he has a brother .Charlie doesn’t quite acknowledge this because well, because he didn’t grow up with a brother. It’s not until he’s looking through an old trunk that Charlie comments again about wishing he really did have a brother, that Mrs Higgler tells him he does. All he has to do to contact him is ‘tell a spider and he’ll come running’. So Charlie does just that.
Enter chaos in the form of Spider, Charlie’s twin brother. Spider has charisma, a silver tounge and the power of the gods to help him, unlike Charlie. Spider arrives in London and turns Charlie’s world upside down. When Spider takes him out for a night on the town Charlie wakes up the next day in bed with another girl, only to be caught out by a surprise visit from his future mother-in-law. As if that’s not bad enough, Spider has taken over his life. Rosie thinks Spider is Charlie, his boss Grahame Coates thinks Spider is Charlie and his spare box room is now a tropical paradise complete with jacuzzi!
In order to put his life straight again Charlie must remove Spider from it. Easier said than done. Charlie first needs to accept himself, his history and the fact that his father was a god.
This story is an intricate web of threads that cross and weave around each other,building a shimmering result. Neil Gaiman’s talent for keeping his reader engaged and entertained is on top form. It tells several stories at once and the inclusion of the Anansi god and his history adds to the humour of the tale. All of the characters are written beautifully, leavinng the reader with the hard choice of who to root for at times. I in particular liked the four old women Mrs Higgler, Mrs Dunwiddy, Miss Noles and Mrs Bustamonte. For me,they were reminisent of the witches from MacBeth. They made me laugh with their bossiness and gung ho ways that are rooted in good intentions. I also loved the parts that were just about the stories of Anansi and how Gaiman manages to connect it all back to the main storyline.
But the real beauty of this edition lies in the illustration. Francis Vallejo has wonderfully illustrated the story, his use of bright warm colours that you would associate with the Carribean, are spot on in capturing Gaiman’s story. From the slip cover to the illustrations in the the book to the way even the sides of the pages are coloured with a green spider web. The use of green in particular to pay homage to Anansi’s fedora is very subtley and cleverly done. Along with the illustrations for the main story that are throughout the book there is an especially nice little touch at the beginning of each chapter. Vallejo has taken the narrative of the Anansi story that runs along side the main story and told it through his thoughtful line drawings. In fact the use of illustration in this book left me wondering why more adult books aren’t illustrated. Illustarations shouldn’t be just for kids books.
All in all I think this book is a winner. A highly entertaining story that has the same sort of humour as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Neil Gaiman once again proves why he has the reputation of a master storyteller. That along with the stunning illustrations make this book a keeper and dare I say a potential family heirloom.