BOOK REVIEW: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman – The Folio Society Edition

The Folio Society really do make beautiful books. From the binding to the paper choice, in the subtleties of the typeset and margins, to the artwork that they use to augment the stories. If they publish a favourite of yours then they are the place to go when you want to keep that book for a lifetime and perhaps elevate it to more than just a dogeared paperback stuffed on your shelves.

Illustration ©2019 Francis Vallejo from The Folio Society edition of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys
One of the latest authors and novels to get the Folio Society treatment is Neil Gaiman and his Anansi Boys – a tale of the trickster spider god of Caribbean and African origin, and his two sons. For a more complete review of the story see our previous review below.
Nalo Hopkinson has written the foreword introducing the novel. Nalo gives some background information I hadn’t heard before about how diligent Neil Gaiman was in researching aspects of Caribbean dialects. This also tends to situate the novel somewhat in the milieu of identity and literature, or identity politics if you like. Although this is by no means full guns blazing social justice warrior stuff, or some postcolonial-Foucauldian ‘percolation’ of power, but rather a nuanced personal reflection, which speaks to Neil Gaiman’s skill as a writer.
Illustration ©2019 Francis Vallejo from The Folio Society edition of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys
For example, Neil doesn’t mention the colour of the protagonists. The story and its fantastical elements flow naturally because of the grounding in an authenticity he seemingly worked hard for but which looks effortless on the page, allowing the reader to bring what ever they have to the story without misrepresenting cultures. Gaiman, like all good (or great) writers, writes about people, beautiful, flawed and complex people – oh, and that goes for the gods too.
The artwork by Francis Vallejo is truly sumptuous. There are full-colour pieces and intricate black-and-white illustrations capturing some of the set pieces and most startling images conjured up by the novel. All of this however doesn’t overwhelm the words on the page. The illustrations work seamlessly. They are things to enjoy and look at by themselves when on a double page spread, or they integrate beautifully with the prose when occupying the same space, not detracting but adding to the overall experience like sound with the video, or smell with taste. I especially like the chapter frontispiece illustrations, double page black-and-white pictures showing Anansi in spider form interacting with some of the animal personifications, mirroring the progression through the story.
Illustration ©2019 Francis Vallejo from The Folio Society edition of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys
The colour illustrations whilst different have the feel of at least nodding towards Gaiman’s comic book roots, the dramatic panelling and contrasts in simple colour palettes – hyperbole of image, evocative and emotional. The black-and-white illustrations mid-chapter have that same graphic art aesthetic, presenting tableaus of the scene you are enjoying.
If Anansi Boys was both a fantastical story and a magical experience the first time, it becomes something else with an additional level of glamour, which will make you never want to put the book down. But of course if you do, it will look beautiful sat on your shelf beguiling those who should come across it.

The Folio Society edition of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, introduced by Nalo Hopkinson and illustrated by Francis Vallejo, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com

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Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman grew up in England and, although Jewish, attended Church of England schools, including Ardingly College, a boarding school in West Sussex (South of England). During the early 1980s he worked as a journalist and book reviewer. His first book was a biography of the band Duran Duran. He moved from England to his wife’s hometown in the American midwest several years ago. He and his family now live in a renovated Victorian farmhouse where (he says) his hobbies are writing things down, hiding, and talking about himself in the third person.

Read our review of The Folio Society Edition of American Gods here.

Read our previous review of Anansi Boys here.

Read our review of Norse Mythology here.

Neil Gaiman reviews by Daniel Soule.

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