Book review: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

An old Gaiman book I hadn’t read yet! This is a rarity. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for ages, but as with many other books, I only got around to experiencing it when I found it on audiobook at the library.

I noticed it’s described as #2 in the American Gods series, which surprised me, as I didn’t know American Gods was a series (but further research tells me there’s a couple short stories that’s also part of the series). I’ve read the first book twice, and while I love the creativity of the worldbuilding, it’s not my favorite of his stories.

I liked this one much better.

This book has so many things that Gaiman does so well: capturing both British and American culture, drawing humor out of the little inanities of life, weaving together the ordinary and the supernatural, upping the stakes for characters dramatically but in a realistic fashion, all while maintaining an informal narrative voice that speaks directly to the reader.

More specifically, why Gaiman is such a riveting writer: he is not afraid to hurt his characters. True, the injury done to Spider was not permanent as it would be for a mortal being, but I felt all the visceral horror of it as it happened. I was also considerably distressed by Maeve Livingstone’s fate — yet glad to learn she was not finished in the story, but still had a part to play and her vengeance to win. I would have preferred the story without any dead women, of course, but at least she had more agency than they do in most. (Dead women with agency seem to be a hallmark of the American Gods series, come to think of it.)

Another thing I really liked about this book was how casually a few non-protagonist characters were described as white. It’s a great way to handle POC as your main characters, while also illustrating what it’s like for them to be made Other, not the norm, all the time in our culture. And, dammit, I really want to see a movie or minimiseries of this story. I mentally cast Gugu Mbatha-raw as Rosie.

Oh, and I loved Daisy’s parents’ backstory, and their distress at their daughter becoming a police officer.

As for the mythology side of the story: I quite liked it, yes. Tiger was a great villain, and Bird was terrifying. I loved Spider and Charlie’s flight from place to place as they tried to find a place without any birds, and the old ladies of Florida with their seance knowledge. Most of all, the revelation of Spider and Charlie’s actual relationship was thrilling — I hadn’t seen it coming.

Most of all, Charlie’s gradual self-actualization, his growing self-confidence (with the dropping of “Fat” from his name), was a beautiful thing to behold.

On to quotes:

This one exemplifies what I mean about how Gaiman draws humor out of the inanities of life, and why I believe he too once had a soul-sucking job:

There was something about being in the vicinity of Grahame Coats that always made Fat Charlie (a) speak to cliches and (b) begin to daydream about huge black helicopters first opening fire upon, then dropping buckets of flaming napalm onto the offices of the Grahame Coats Agency. Fat Charlie would not be in the office in those daydreams. He would be sitting in a chair outside a little cafe on the other side of the Aldwych, sipping a frothy coffee and occasionally cheering an exceptionally well-flung bucket of napalm.

One of the funniest bits struck me when Charlie’s future mother-in-law, a skeletal and malicious woman, is lecturing him on the wedding plans:

“…I don’t want to hear anything from your best man I wouldn’t hear in a church. You understand me?”

Fat Charlie wondered what Rosie’s mother would usually hear in a church. Probably just cries of “Back! Foul beast of Hell!” followed by gasps of “Is it alive?” and a nervous inquiry as to whether anybody had remembered to bring the stakes and hammers.

But probably the best quote in the book concerns satire and why it’s so powerful:

Tiger roared in anger, and Charlie took the roar and wound his song around it. Then he did the roar himself, just like Tiger had done it. Well, the roar began just as Tiger’s roar had, but then Charlie changed it, so it became a really goofy sort of roar, and all the creatures watching from the rocks started to laugh. They couldn’t help it. Charlie did the goofy roar again. Like any impersonation, like any perfect caricature, it had the effect of making what it made fun of intrinsically ridiculous. No one would ever hear Tiger roar again without hearing Charlie’s roar underneath it.

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