Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Headline, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Charlie doesn’t have fond memories of his father. Mr Nancy was a waster who tricked his son and crippled him with social anxiety. Charlie has no intention of inviting his father to his upcoming wedding, but his fiancée, Rosie, insists, believing their wedding is the perfect time for reconciliation. And this is how Charlie discovers his father has died. During the funeral, Charlie learns that his father was the god Anansi, a trickster god, and he has a brother, Spider, who has inherited their father’s god powers. Spider’s introduction into Charlie’s world throws Charlie from his comfortable, if boring life, into one of gods and magic, from London to Florida to the Caribbean and to the heart of songs, stories, and families.
My problem with Neil Gaiman’s work is he is so skilled at creating realistic, familiar worlds with relatable characters that he is guaranteed to break my heart. Anansi Boys lived up to my high expectations. Charlie, known as Fat Charlie because his dad called it him once and it stuck, has a dead-end job, a girlfriend who wants him to fit in with her standards, and a mother-in-law-to-be who hates his guts. He is one of life’s plodders, never achieving much and wouldn’t know what to do with success if he managed it. So when Spider arrives in his life, full of magic and confidence, and starts taking over Charlie’s life, including his fiancée, I almost stopped reading. I cared so much about Charlie and his super-relatable life that I felt each attack against him as if it was aimed at me. However, I also couldn’t put it down because I cared so much for Charlie I needed to know he would be OK in the end.
Gaiman is a master of blending reality with fantasy, and Charlie’s transition from ‘normal’ life to one of gods is taken step by step, pushed to the limits of what Charlie’s sanity can handle. Yet, it isn’t unrealistic because it is as much a journey into the fantastical as it is also Charlie’s passage to self-realisation. Charlie is not living up to his full capabilities because he doesn’t understand or appreciate his heritage.
Anansi Boys is a powerful story of family and all the ups and downs of family life. As Charlie’s relationship with his father changes with his deeper understanding of who his father was, so does Charlie change. Anansi can’t help his nature, he’s a trickster god, but Charlie can control his reaction to it. He must learn who he is both with and without his father to be complete in his own right. This made the ending really stand out to me. Gaiman’s endings are a satisfactory blend of happiness with the pain of change that is part and parcel of life and a necessary part of any story. In Anansi Boys, there is no negative, just the positivity that the hardest changes are the most rewarding.