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Fat Charlie's father has died. Charlie does not consider this a huge loss as they did not see eye to eye . However, his death sparks a revelation - Charlie has a brother who also happens to be a Demi-God. Unfortunately, his brother seems hell bent on stealing Charlie's fiancée, his life and his home. How can Charlie stop a God?
Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys is a jaunty outing with just the faintest tinge of horror about it. Gaiman's writing is fundamentally dark in its nature and he seems to love to take the "average Joe" and make horrendous things happen to him. Gaiman excels at creating pathetic but likeable heroes and Fat Charlie certainly fits the bill in this respect. The contrast between his apathetic approach to life and that of his exuberant brother, Spider, is fascinating. Anyone who has competed for affection with a sibling will empathise with Charlie's plight and, despite the often fantastical settings, will recognise the power struggle that occurs between them.
Gaiman writes with great style and is able to create imaginative, vivid and believable landscapes on which to base this tale of sibling rivalry. Unfortunately, his plotting and narrative lacks cohesion. This makes Anansi Boys a disjointed read that I sometimes found myself struggling to follow. Parts of this book are an exercise in perfectly written escapist literature. Gaiman's unique use of animal Gods is inspired in terms of imagery. You can visualise the scheming characters Gaiman creates and by giving the Gods a degree of desperate humanity you can well imagine the motives of the greedy Tiger and menacing Bird. Unfortunately, other parts are lacking character, flow or direction and you may find yourself wondering when something interesting is going to happen. This is particularly the case early on and very little seems to happen until midway through the book, when it finally explodes into life.
This is a novel Gaiman has obviously written for fun and this is evident in the humour throughout. Despite the dark atmosphere and morbid visuals this book often carries, many of the characters and situations are ridiculous to the point of hilarious. A middle aged vengeful widow who happens to be a ghost to name but one! His writing, while not up to the standard of "Good Omens", a collaboration with Terry Pratchett, is witty and full of pointed observations about British and American culture. In his preface, Gaiman hails Douglas Adams as one of his great inspirations when he writes and this novel certainly bares comparison with something he would write.
Perhaps, not the best example of Neil Gaiman's work, Anansi Boys is nonetheless an entertaining experience that benefits from Gaiman's imagination but suffers from a lack of tight plotting. Fans of Gaiman will enjoy the ideas, although maybe not the writing, and I would say borrow it before you buy it.
Paperback: 400 pages Publisher: Headline Review (8 May 2006) ISBN: 0755305094 Price: £3.99 on amazon
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