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Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys back

Neil Gaiman


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Old Mrs Dunwiddy is making serious preparations for a vital ceremony. All ingredients must be present and correct: there can be no margin for error.

“Now,” said Mrs Dunwiddy, “the devil-grass, the St John the Conqueror root, and the love-lies bleeding.”
Mrs Bustamonte rummaged in her shopping bag and took out a small glass jar. “It’s mixed herbs,” she explained. “I thought it would be all right.”
“Mixed herbs!” said Mrs Dunwiddy. “Mixed herbs!”
“Will that be a problem?” said Mrs Bustamonte. “It’s what I always use when the recipe says basil this or oregano that. I can’t be doin’ with it. You ask me, it’s all mixed herbs.”

It’s all mixed herbs.

This is all quite brilliant and I’m sorry it’s taken me eight years to write a review, but I’m a very slow reader. This was Neil’s last adult novel before THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE whose assessment here you can probably expect circa 2022.

It concerns the trickster god Anansi whom I first encountered aged six. I don’t mean that I actually encountered him: it was entirely my fault that Julie’s chocolate buns had more than a tang of tarragon to them, and that Jacob’s pants had actual ants in them. I mean that I encountered the spider-god in a story. And that is what Neil’s all about: stories.

Here Fat Charlie Nancy (who isn’t all that fat) is living an average, stable life in blissful ignorance. He has a fiancée who is chaste and whom he loves, even though his arid dragon of a mother-in-law hates his guts and is far from shy in showing it. He has a job he is devoted to and good at, even though it’s dull and his boss is a sycophantic con-man. He has, however, always been embarrassed by his father.

Now, a lot of us have been embarrassed about our fathers, but few of us are so perpetually embarrassed by them. Fat Charlie was consistently, persistently embarrassed by his father: his father would play tricks on the poor lad which resulted in play-ground mockery. So our Fat Charlie Nancy is relatively relieved that his dad is dead.

It is then, however, that our not-so-Fat Charlie discovers that his dad was Anansi – which kind of explains those practical jokes – and that he has a living brother who inherited his father’s gaily brandished, perception-distorting guile. What on earth is our naïf to do? Well, once his brother is on the scene there is an awful lot of damage-limitation to take care of. But then, there is also an awful lot of damage!

This is Gaiman’s funniest book to date. I could quote chapter after verse on this instead of writing my own silly words and so sell infinitely more copies. But I don’t think that’s how reviews work, is it?

Reading most prose and graphic novels by Neil Gaiman is like reading Winnie The Pooh. It’s not that they are deliciously child-like, it’s that most sentences Sound As If Each Word Should Be Begin With A Capital Letter: every single sentence is Important and Redolent with Meaning. I love that, but it’s not so much here.

This is a mischievous joy.