Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

In this book Neil Gaiman taps Afro-Caribbean legends to tell the tale of Fat Charlie Nancy, who is trying to get by in a less than spectacular life in London when he learns that his father Mr. Nancy has died in Florida. He travels to Florida to take care of the estate where he learns that Mr. Nancy was actually Anansi, a west African god who often appears in the form of a spider. Anansi, we learn from small tales between the chapters that unfold Fat Charlie’s story, is very clever but often uses that cleverness to cause mischief. (Many of the tales are similar to those found in Br’er Rabbit, where the Anansi tales were an inspiration.)

A long time friend of Mr. Nancy also informs Fat Charlie that he has a brother, and that if he wants to meet him he only needs to tell any spider. Fat Charlie does this after returning to London, bringing a visit from his flamboyant and until-now-unknown brother named Spider.

Fat Charlie and Spider go on a binge of alcohol and women to mourn their father’s death. Before he knows it Spider begins literally taking over Fat Charlie’s life, not just showing up at his work when Fat Charlie has too much of a hangover to show up himself but also filling in with Fat Charlie’s fiance.

Through the rest of the book Fat Charlie has to try to get back control of his own life while he also learns more about his father and the true nature of Spider.

This may be the funniest Gaiman book I’ve read, with hilarious characters and wonderful story turns. American Gods inspires awe, The Graveyard Book touches your heart, but this book kept me laughing through the entire book. In fact, I found myself wondering how Gaiman could have missed bringing this kind of humor and flare to Norse Mythology.

I listened to the audiobook which, unlike many others, was read by someone other than Gaiman. I like Gaiman’s reading but he tends to emphasize the lyrical force of his writing at the expense of characterizations. In this book Lenny Henry brings all the characters to life (maybe a bit screechy with some of the women characters) and the feeling of an African storyteller during the Anansi sequences.

It’s a delightful book and one of my new favorites from a bulging Gaiman library.