Sympathetic Stupid

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman

American Gods was great, a harsh, unforgiving tale of the clash of gods in a dirty world. Anansi Boys is nominally a sequel, but couldn't be more different. All that stays the same is Gaiman's gorgeous writing style and his Gods-as-special-humans framework.

Anansi Boys is a "funny" book in the same way that Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are "funny". The description, often aimed to belittle, misses the point completely. The humour and conversational tone are a spoonful of sugar; the incisive points about human nature and modern society are the medicine, which slips straight down.

Anansi Boys is the story of Fat Charlie. His dad, apparently a god, dies, and an unexpected brother enters his life. Spider inherited the godly portion of his father while Fat Charlie apparently inherited the flawed, mundane bits. Spider wanders in and starts effectively living Charlie's life for him, only much, much more successfully. This resonates with me. It's about all those situations where, if only you were someone else, you could've done so much better; could've kissed her, could've taken charge of the meeting, could've scared the mugger away, could've approached them with the plan. But being me seemed to rule 'em all out.

And the comparison with Pratchett was anything but accidental. This book of Gaiman's is remarkably similar to the best of Pratchett. Indeed, a couple of bits seem almost lifted from the Discworld - compare the voodoo ladies with the Ramtops witches; or Maeve Livingstone with King Verence in Wyrd Sisters; or Grahame Coats with any Discworld villain. Not to mention his use of unrelated witty footnotes, which given another six or eight books could become almost as prevalent as Pratchett. This is all said without rancour - I love Pratchett, and I loved this book, but the feel remains solidly, wonderfully Gaiman's own. The mythic passages, especially, are so light yet well-drawn, otherworldly without becoming dense description, and seamlessly blended with the text.

A truly excellent read.