Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Neil Gaiman: Anansi Boys (2005)

Edition: Review, 2005
Review number: 1309

Neil Gaiman's new novel is not a sequel to American Gods, but it shares a setting and many of the ideas behind the earlier story. There is one shared character, in a way: Anansi the trickster spider from African myth, a major source for the stories of Brer Rabbit that might be more familiar to many Westerners. The premise of Anansi Boys is that Anansi is dead, and his son Charlie, a London-based accountant, has to come to terms with who his father was, at the same time discovering that he has a brother who has inherited his father's supernatural powers, yet seems to want to take over Charlie's dull life.

Generally, the tone is quite light - this is Gaiman's sunniest novel to date with the possible exception of Pratchett collaboration Good Omens. This is true even though the original Anansi stories have a definite nasty side. The originals, some of which are retold here, are generally about practical jokes, which can really only be excused because they show the underdog winning by his cleverness - after all, what chance does a spider have against a tiger physically?

Perhaps because it is lacking in good ideas, Anansi Boys does not seem as good as American Gods. It's purpose is less serious, however; it is meant to entertain, and it does so magnificently. It does seem more Tom Holt than Neil Gaiman; not necessarily a bad thing, but not what I expected.

At the end of the book, there is a short series of appendices, explicitly compared to the extras that appear on DVDs. As there, some are more interesting than other; a deleted scene and a short interview with Gaiman add to the novel, while the banal questions for book groups don't. One good thing about the deleted scene is that it shows that Gaiman is willing to cut out good bits if they don't fit in to the flow of the novel, something that many of today's fantasy authors could do well to copy.

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