At the start of last year, I read American God’s by Neil Gaiman. At the start of this year I read his Anansi Boys. It’s not a tradition or anything. Things sometimes just happen in patterns, or perhaps the mind does strange things without you noticing. I’ve now read all of Mr Gainman’s novels, for grown-ups and their little people, and he is most definitely a wonderful writer, one of my favourites. He is not the people’s writer, though for some he may be, nor the writer’s writer, though again that could also be true, but for me he is the meta-writer.
Now, apologies here. By meta-writer I do not mean to sound like one of those nauseating Bay Area tech types, for whom everything is ‘meta’, in between them ‘ten x-ing’ their productivity’ or ‘pivoting’ their start-up. I mean meta in the Joseph Campbell Hero with a Thousand Faces type of way. I’ve not read a book of Mr Gaiman’s that isn’t tightly written, even in the longer, more expansive American God’s everything is done for a reason. Every one of his novels, for me, read as fairy-tales, full of magic, archetypal characters and fable like story arcs of character change.
Anansi Boys is no different and some have described it as a sequel to American Gods, although I wouldn’t. Rather Mr Nancy, the West African spider god, who is a bit part in American Gods, gets his own story in Anansi Boys. Actually, that’s wrong, as you will find out if you read Anansi Boys all the stories are Mr Nancy’s, which is very important indeed.
We get a further look at the pantheistic metaphysical world first introduced in American Gods, one in which belief and reality are tightly intertwined. This is a familiar Gaiman motif of magical worlds existing somewhere beneath or between the focal points of mortal perception – just out of sight, in the corner of your eye. This kind of liminality is imperative to the magical realism Neil Gaiman constructs: The world between the cracks in Neverwhere; the mirror world of Coraline; Bod, the boy between the living and the dead in The Graveyard Book; the story of beliefs immigrants bring with them in American Gods, told from in between the places where stories are usually set.
Anansi Boys follows the fate of Charlie Nancy, the spider god’s son. Charlie, however, is less than God like. He is the archetypal underdog and his story is a classic Cambellian arc (though I understand Mr Gaiman never finished reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces). The story structure is like the Adam Sandler movie Anger Management, but an awful lot better. The lead up to the inciting incident is a catalogue of unfortunate events that propel our protagonist Charlie into a bigger world and even bigger adventure.
Anansi Boys is about the importance of stories, the fundamental metaphysical importance of them to belief, to memory, to the fabric of the universe. For that reason alone, if you care about stories you should probably read it. However, both American Gods and Anansi Boys are due on our television screens later this years. And who said 2017 was looking bad?
Anansi Boys was published by William Morrow & Company; Reprint edition (25 Oct. 2016).
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Review by Daniel Soule
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Little Man o’ War
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