by Neil Gaiman
For my listening pleasure during my daily two-hour commute, I checked an audio CD of Anansi Boys out of the library. Great indeed was my pleasure in listening to British comedian Lenny Henry narrate this companion book to American Gods. I particularly noted the glee with which he impersonated its colorful cast of characters. He really knows his way around a West Indian dialect, making my time with this book somewhat like having a series of perfectly blended mojitos poured into my ears.
This lighthearted, tightly paced, frequently hilarious book bears a night-and-day contrast to the at times graphically nasty grimness of American Gods. Its main character, "Fat Charlie" Nancy, is a regular bloke, brought up by his Londoner mum since she split with his Florida-based father, whom Charles remembers mostly with embarrassment. Nevertheless, Fat Charlie goes back to Florida to bury the old man after he drops dead in the middle of a karaoke number. Among the vague memories stirred by the Caribbean ladies from his old neighborhood is the fact that Fat Charlie has a brother named Spider, and all he has to do if he wants to see him is talk to a spider about it. Charlie finds this almost as hard to believe as the notion that his late Dad was the ancient West African spider-god Anansi, but when he tries it (the spider-talking bit) back in his London flat, he discovers that his long-lost brother is very real. And very, very cool.
Spider is all the things Charlie likes to imagine himself to be but is not. Spider is good-looking, confident, handy with the girls. He has also inherited all the godlike powers in the family, power such as the ability to push people's minds and to bend the laws of space-time. But with these powers comes a number of not-so-nice divine attributes, such as capriciousness, selfishness, and indifference to the wellbeing of puny mortals. In a trice, Spider steals Fat Charlie's fiancée and goads his normally nice, easy-going brother into taking otherworldly steps to get rid of him.
By then, the balance of Fat Charlie's carefully ordinary life has been tipped and things begin to happen of themselves, out of control. His fiancée calls off the engagement and sails off with her bitter prune of a mother. A swindling money manager moves a peg up to kidnapping and murder, and tries to frame Fat Charlie for his crimes. A pretty cop flushes her career down the toilet to pursue her own investigation. And Fat Charlie realizes that he and Spider need each other, only when the latter is at the mercy of their family's most ancient enemy.
This book earns a big, bright "occult content advisory" with its cheerful depiction of ancient African gods and animistic West Indian rituals. Aside from that and a little blood, guts, and scary imagery, it is a surprisingly family-friendly novel (again, in marked contrast to American Gods), and full of laughs, surprises, romance, suspense, elemental storytelling, and for all its exotic subject matter, people and experiences that somehow seem so familiar that you have no trouble believing in it all. Perhaps that is why it won both the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and the British Fantasy Society's August Derleth Award for best novel of 2006, ranking it among the best works of fantasy literature in our time. All I can say for sure, though, is that it was the most fun I'd had at the wheel of my car since I started listening to audiobooks. It made me look forward to driving to work each day!
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 14+
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