Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman (read by Lenny Henry)


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Neil Gaiman has the uncanny ability to take supernatural things and make them part of the day-to-day life that so many of us stumble through. With his keen insights, warmth, and wit, Gaiman shares those words – supernatural and everyday – in a manner that is delightfully hypnotic.

Anansi Boys is an off-shoot of sorts of American Gods but succeeds terrifically on its own. Anansi is the spider god, the trickster god, of certain cultures in Africa, and it only seems just that Gaiman spins his tale with a lot of sleight-of-hand twists and turns that may catch even his veteran readers off guard.

I had a blast with this book. The story and characters were solidly built and presented, but I had the additional joy of listening to the novel on audiobook in my car. The narrator, Lenny Henry, is an absolute godsend to this book (no pun intended). His voice characterizations are spot-on and every character he brings to life is unique and separate. Henry is the master of understated British inflection and Caribbean sing-song dialect, as well as male and female voices. I hung on his every word, and there are plenty of characters for Henry to showcase.

The story revolves around Fat Charlie Nancy, who didn’t know he was the son of the trickster god, Anansi. Fat Charlie had known his upbringing had always been different because his father wasn’t like anyone else he’d ever met.

The way that Gaiman starts the story drew me in immediately. It’s just the story of a guy, the kind of guy you’ve probably met over and over again throughout your life. Fat Charlie doesn’t take chances and doesn’t live a big life. He does just enough to get by, but not enough to attract success or ire.

However, on the eve of his wedding, he learns that his father – from whom he’s been estranged – has died. I liked the way that Fat Charlie didn’t know how he was supposed to react to that news. Not only that, he didn’t know how he felt. It wasn’t like he was going to miss the father that was never around.

At the funeral, weirdness steps in. One of the old women he’d known as a child hands him a shovel and tells him that he has to bury his father. I was rocked by this because I didn’t know what I would have done. Fat Charlie thinks about it a moment, then rolls his sleeves up and gets to work.

Afterwards, the old woman and Fat Charlie start talking about family. She reveals that Fat Charlie has a brother – Spider – that he apparently has forgotten. The way Gaiman works in his twists and turns is awesome. He’ll just hit you between the eyes with them, let you know they’re there, then turn whatever you were thinking on its head and surprise you again.

When Fat Charlie gets curious and calls out to his brother, Spider shows up. And that’s when things get really weird. Magic seeps into the book, and its stealthily trailed by menace. Both of those additions continue to grow until the fate of the world literally hangs in the balance.

Gaiman is an absolute master of showing interpersonal relationships that we all have. He knows the good parts and the bad, and he dishes on both. His dialogue shines, and his humor ranges from deadpan to over-the-top that left me howling out loud. Best of all, this is a book that you can share with your kids on long drives. The story is simple and the characters are unique. There’s no objectionable material, and the problems of family can be understood by kids as well as adults.

One of the best parts of the book is the integration of the Anansi legends among the story. I enjoyed listening to those tales, so much like many other folk legends I’ve heard.

Anansi Boys is a great book about family with a hint of fantasy, or maybe it’s a fantasy novel with a great message about families. Either way, it’s a delightful tale that will keep you and possibly your family entertained for hours whether on the page or in the CD player. Best of all, it’s a story that I’m planning to read or listen to again because it’s going to be a perennial favorite of mine.


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