J.G. Keely's Reviews > Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
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's review
May 09, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: humor, fantasy, novel, reviewed, contemporary-fantasy, uk-and-ireland
Read in May, 2008

I've come to recognize that one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that I listened to the audiobook, performed by comedian Lenny Henry, whose background as a Brit of Caribbean descent made him the perfect choice to bring the characters to life. A lot of audiobooks aren't very good, but this one way great, and really brings out the fact that Anansi stories are meant to be heard.

It's recognizable Gaiman stuff, with the fish-out-of-water narrator in a modern fantasy world, with the author sxploring the history and the form of the mythic story, but there's a level of deprecating humor in this book that is lacking in other works by Gaiman.

One can catch snips of wit in any of his books. Any good book must include some humor: an author might as futilely try to excise pain or desire from life as humor. Gaiman has never placed any such artificial limits on his work; indeed, the only limits on his books are those he, himself cannot overcome.

Previously, his humor was only an occasional element, but there was apparently something in the writing of this particular book which finally allowed him to unleash his sense of the comic as a whole entity. The text swims and bobs with the ridiculous, the unfortunate, and the clever.

After reading 'Good Omens', written by Gaiman and Prachett, I was told that without Prachett, it would have retained none of the humor. I now begin to wonder whether if Pratchett added anything at all. Indeed, this work of Gaiman's overshadows that earlier work in both degrees and shades of the insightful and entertaining.

With the focus on Anansi and stories, the book provides an amusing analysis of storytelling itself, so that anyone who studies the nature and classification of tales will find certain asides and references particularly amusing. It is rare these days that an author will write a piece of fiction which explores on a subtextual level a concept or idea fundamental to the work itself. I have come to wish that more authors could gain the audacity that Gaiman found here.

There is a degree to which this story matches Gaiman's usual monomythic progression from naive outsider to coy insider, which at the outset was my greatest difficulty with the work. The inevitability and redundancy of this trope makes me wish for Gaiman's more eccentric and perverse moments. However, I found in the clever and skilled text a story worth experiencing, and one which matches or exceeds Gaiman's other attempts in the modern fantasy genre.

The story is not as epic or dire as Gaiman's tend to be, and without that there is a loss of urgency in the story. This is not really a deficiency, however, as the playful humor could not cohabitate comfortably with an ever-steepening plot curve.

The work fits into Gaiman's usual mode, exploring the myths and psychologies that most interest him. It may lose some of his fans in that it is less dark and brooding, less hopeless, but this could hardly be counted a loss. Any reader who wants more of the same can re-read his old works. the rest of us may appreciate seeing a master storyteller exploring his form in a new and engaging way.

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02/06/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Keely (last edited Jul 01, 2008 10:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Keely Hyslop If you like books that reflexively discuss the art of story-telling, you should try reading William Goldman's A Princess Bride. Aside from being consistently hilarious, the selective inclusion and exclusion of information that is at the heart of story-telling is a major subplot. The movie, however brilliant, largely glosses over the meta-discourse of the book.

J.G. Keely Interesting. Thanks for the heads-up, I'll have to check it out.

Sutha I must make another effusive comment on your review Keely. I really do like your tempered succinctness in summarising themes. I wish your wrote more reviews.

However, I see little reason why playful humour cannot cohabit with a steepening plot curve under the pen of a writer as talented Gaiman. Douglas Adams often did it as have others. The fact that Gaiman chooses not to was his distinct choice, but for me, this particular novel suffers too greatly from it's lack.

J.G. Keely More reviews? I've got about four-hundred kicking around, but perhaps you mean more reviews of books we share? I'll see what I can do.

I agree that Adams' work is superb, though I suppose I tend to put him in a class by himself, as an author. I also think one of the reasons I rated Anansi Boys so highly was that I listened to the audiobook version by Lenny Henry, which really put all of Gaiman's humor in its best light. I agree the plot is a bit light, especially for Gaiman, but I was surprised and impressed by the change in tone from his usual fare.

message 5: by Momentai (last edited Jul 12, 2013 04:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Momentai I'm reading it right now and I'm loving it. If someone read a story like this to me that'd be an extra one star if they could pull off the humorous tones.

J.G. Keely Yeah, it kicks it up another level.

Lynne I also listened on CD and it was one if the best books on CD I have ever heard - so well read

J.G. Keely Agreed, excellent audiobook performance.

message 9: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy haha I also got the audiobook and just LOVED the reader's voice. I thought I was the only one..:)

David Really a great performance by the reader here. I wish I could find some more of his work.

J.G. Keely Lenny Henry? He's a British comedian and actor who's done sketch comedy and sit coms. No other audio books, though.

Cherry Jeffs Agreed. Lenny Henry did a sterling job. I did my share of quiet chortling whilst trying not to wake up my partner. It's a really enjoyable book. Not often I apply that word to a book, strangely...

J.G. Keely Well, there are other things than enjoyment that can pull us in--something intriguing, challenging, otherworldly, emotionally fraught--aspects like that tend to appeal to you more.

Cmadler I'm midway through the audiobook now, and I couldn't agree more with your comments about Lenny Henry's outstanding narration. Also, if you haven't gotten around to it yet, I'll second Keely Hyslop's recommendation of Goldman's The Princess Bride.

message 15: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric Larsen Great review. I listened to the audiobook as well, and felt like it is probably better enjoyed this way. I think the main thing to keep in mind as a reader with expectations going into this book, is that it is nothing at all (in tone) like American Gods, to which this book is kind of a sequel. Maybe it's better not to even think of this book as a sequel, but a standalone. Regardless, I think Anansi Boys was far more humorous than Good Omens, my 2 cents.

Elizabeth I listened to The Ocean at the End of the Lane which was read beautifully by Neil Gaiman himself, but I agree- the audio version of this book was an absolute treasure. I wonder if I would've loved this book as much if I'd read it.

Stephanie I just finished listening to this on my lunch break! I totally agree that Lenny brings the characters to life in a way that I would have lost reading it.

message 18: by Howard (new)

Howard Beautiful pics. Thanks for the share.

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