Some readerships are born out of accident. Or, as in my case with Neil Gaiman, a whole series of them. It began with Stardust. Pau lent me her copy in high school and, like most readers, I fell in love with it; it sparked an early interest. Almost all subsequent “accidents” link to Eandra. Over the years, she has lent me: Fragile Things, Smoke and Mirrors, Good Omens (co-authored with Terry Pratchett), American Gods, Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls, The Graveyard Book. (Neverwhere I bought for myself, because I felt bad for not owning a single Gaiman novel.) Eandra practically insisted on me borrowing her books—she’s obviously a fan, and she’s generous that way. Visiting me in the hospital some weeks ago, she brought Anansi Boys and wordlessly handed it to me, along with a small bouquet of flowers.
Thick paperback novels almost always prove entertaining, and Anansi Boys is no exception. Not since The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao have I read a novel with such urgency. I wanted to know what would happen next. But mostly it felt like an action movie, where it’s all really just movement—a few emotional moments here and there, yes, but generally the focus is on the plot rather than on the characters. Although Gaiman manages to impress an unmistakable distinctness to his characters, I found the emotional transitions unwarranted, sometimes occurring in just one sentence. (Fat Charlie falling out of love with Rosie: “Fat Charlie thought about Rosie. He found it particularly hard to remember her face.”) In essence, that’s my problem with the novel, really: it was too easy! All along I believed it would conclude with a happy ending, but still I wanted that to be earned.
Anansi Boys leaves you with many unanswered questions, but it does end in a manner that makes your heart feel a bit lighter, the world just a bit brighter. It’s an easygoing book for anyone looking to have a bit of spook and fun, for the kind of reader who doesn’t take himself or his books too seriously. But otherwise, it feels unsatisfying. The author shows no careful deliberation on sentences, paragraphs—the focus remains on the overarching story, and while that is okay, in this case it leads to plot shifts that often feel undeserved, and a story that is overall lacking.
Impossible things happen. When they do happen, most people just deal with it. Today, like every day, roughly five thousand people on the face of the planet will experience one-chance-in-a-million things, and not one of them will refuse to believe their senses. Most of them will say the equivalent, in their own language, of ‘Funny old world, isn’t it?’ and just keep going.