Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: Anansi Boys

Recently it's been a bit more convenient for me to get to my Maryland library system than the DC one so I've gone back through my ever-too-long to-read list and grabbing a few things from the early parts of it. I can actually specifically remember where this recommendation came from, back in the livejournal days I wrote about a book I had just read which was a collaboration between Gaiman and someone else and I thought it was pretty bad. It was a failed tv pilot involving people from alternate worlds but the catch was that every single one of them was essentially the same person, literally a group of chosen people that was all the same person. I mentioned that if this was my first exposure to Gaiman I wasn't sure what the fuss was all about so a friend of mine kindly posted a few recommendations for his best-loved books and they've sat on my list ever since.  

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Once upon a time, all stories were Anansi the Spider's stories and he loved to both tell them and to make them, no matter how silly his role would be. Fat Charlie Nancy never liked how his father acted however, he seemed more than willing to laugh at him and make him stand out in a way that he was never comfortable with. He's happy with his life now but when he accidentally finds out he has a brother, Spider, that old uncomfortable feeling is back.

I'm curious why I've seen some people call this a book with an American mythology, Gaiman himself said something similar in the notes, because it really didn't seem like that*. Yes his description of what the American South looks like away from the big cities matched up with my own experiences pretty well (abet, a south that is not Florida which even in the South is considered Its Own Thing) but very little of the story is set there. It seemed like just as much was spent in England or that island in the middle of the Atlantic and I wouldn't say it's a story about those mythologies either. I did tag this story under "African mythologies" since more than just Anansi appears in this story but I honestly couldn't even tell you if these were "real" Anansi stories, they certainly weren't the ones I heard as a kid. But on that note, the stories had the same tone that those stories did so that part never pulled me out of the larger story. Anansi seemed to get his comeuppance more often in the stories Gaiman tells than the ones I heard but I suppose that's part of the difference between a story for a five year old and one for someone fifteen and older, the idea that all actions have a consequence but it's not always what you expect.

There were lots of consequences in this book, it's a slightly convoluted tale of many characters assuming that the people around them are out to get them and, while they aren't completely wrong, they make it easier for things to go wrong through their own paranoia. It's a little weird to look at where the story begins and where it ends and realize it's just one book, it's a very packed book and didn't seem excessively long on my kindle. That's especially true for the romance, honestly I was a bit unhappy that it was so romantic-comedy like. You have Fat Charlie and his fiancee Rosie who seem to really like each other and have been through a bit already, are completely ready to get married and by the end of a less-than-two-month-long story they're in a completely different place! I've had friends go through some quick relationships but this seemed excessive and did more to break my suspension of disbelief more than almost anything else in the novel. Fat Charlie's boss Graham admittedly pushed it much farther, his combination of paranoia and delusions didn't make me take him seriously or laugh at him and I'm sure I was supposed to do one or the other.

I did like a lot of the craziness in the book however, it's separate from the magical realism elements in there but there's a rolling sense of "how can we make this more exciting and/or worse?" and then interesting things happen. Which sounds like very basic storytelling but it never feels so rote and elementary, the story has a very fun tone overall and it's not a bad book, I can still recommend it even if it didn't blow my socks off. But in the end I just didn't find it memorable, I just keep not enjoying Gaiman's work as much as everyone else seems to. I still intend to try out American Gods (my friend's other recommendation) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane since I am still honestly curious about those two books but at this point I'm starting to wonder more and more if maybe he's just not the author for me.

Also, one random note, if you read the kindle version of the book like I do, there are two little * in the book, in that version the explanations are way at the end of the book, past the author notes, copyright pages and everything. It's so inconvenient to find that i didn't even find them until I had completely finished the book (and this is why footnotes are better than end notes!).

*I am just now seeing that Goodreads lists this book as the second in an American Gods series, which if it's correct then I am even more confused.