Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman
I buy books for reading, not for collecting, so as a general rule I only buy hardbacks by authors I trust. Shelf-space is precious and you don't want it filling up with books you'll never read again. Until now, Neil Gaiman had been in the paperback-only category; Stardust and Smoke and Mirrors were good books, but American Gods left me pretty flat, and with a similar-ish premise I was afraid that this book would be more of the same. So, rather than splash out on the hardback, I waited and waited then painstakingly tracked down the paperback, cunningly hidden in a large display stand by the counter in Waterstones. I needn't have worried. This is a great book.
Anansi Boys has the same "ancient gods still with us today" theme as American Gods, but the treatment could hardly be more different. No dark and hungry Norse pantheon here; instead it's the trickster god Anansi and the exploits of his two sons, who find out one evening that their estranged father has died in a bizarre karaoke accident. Fat Charlie Nancy is a shy, bumbling misfit with no knowledge of his divine ancestry; his shaky relationship and dead-end job are thrown into upheaval when his long-lost brother arrives with, as they say, hilarious consequences.
It sounds horribly cheesy, but Gaiman carries this off extremely well, and with more than a hint of darkness. The Anansi legends he references are probably better known from Brer Rabbit stories (and also the El Arai-Rah stories from Watership Down), and it is this brand of mischief that permeates the story, rather than any sitcom tackiness. The simple writing style is also evocative of all those children's stories like Fantastic Mr Fox where the hero evades capture or punishment by various sneaky and outrageous means.
For some reason, this review has suddenly come over all pretentious, not entirely sure how that happened. Friday afternoon, I'm losing my ability to write. Anyway, the book's amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny; there is one slip into Pratchett-ism (where the three old ladies are trying to perform a ritual and could only get basic household goods rather than the proper magic ingredients) but I think we can forgive that. Overall, a good fun and entertaining read, and the next time Neil Gaiman puts a book out, I'm buying the hardback.