Feature – Independent on Sunday

From the November 13th Independent on Sunday:

A tiny girl with pink socks and pink glasses rearranges her mane of bright pink hair. The seven-foot beardo whispers to his short companion in the Stetson hat. A little old lady offers a girl in leopardskin a sweetie, and on the other side of the hall a bunch of reformed Goths shuffle their platform shoes. Then Neil Gaiman bounds smiling on to the stage, and the full house goes wild.

This is a rare public appearance for Gaiman, the god of the graphic novel and author of an astonishing, dream-like, mesmerising sequence of comics called The Sandman. Blackwells have persuaded him to a public grilling by Lenny Henry, an old chum who read the audiobook version of his new novel, Anansi Boys.

“All right, why are you so passionate about telling stories?” inquires Henry brusquely, hunched massively in a violent blue suit on a seat that looks far too small for him. “Cos ever since I’ve met you you don’t ever stop it. Telling stories. What is it with you, mate?”

Gaiman, “black leather jacket, black top, black jeans, black hair”, wrinkles up his long clever face and looks a bit thrown. “Well,” he begins hesitantly, “I think stories are the most important thing. For humans.”

And they’re off.

The two of them take it in turns to read from Gaiman’s novel. Henry declaims a scene in which the protagonist wakes up bitterly hungover: “Fat Charlie was fursty”, he explains. “Fat Charlie was fursty and his head hurt.” Gaiman picks his way calmly through a more serious passage. People scream with laughter at any excuse; whoop; clap. When it’s time for questions, a forest of hands decorates the auditorium.

Assistants run up and down with microphones. One small gothically dressed girl is so excited she can hardly get out her question. “I’ve been waiting years to ask this,” she breathes. “You once did this brilliant comic about Emperor Heliagabolus…” (Ed. note: Heliogabolus. -la) There are others, more abstruse. “Would you collaborate with Joss Whedon,” asks one chap, “and if so, would you use his universe or your universe?”

When Gaiman bows out, the whole audience scrambles for the exits and the signing queue. A mother tries to quiet a baby and keep hold of a bagful of Sandman books at the same time. Neil Gaiman patiently signs the inner sleeve of a DVD for a terrified-looking girl in a skirt covered with planets and moons. He glances up and gives her an encouraging smile. And suddenly her eyes are like stars.
–Tim Martin

Feature – Scotland on Sunday

From the November 13th Scotsman:

Neil Gaiman is on the last leg of his world tour. He’s done America and England, is about to do Ireland, and has just done Scotland. But he’ll be back here soon. “Just try to keep me away,” exclaims the cult novelist, who is the literary equivalent of a sexy rock star.

He’ll return in March because he plans to sit in on final rehearsals in Glasgow for the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of his weirdly wonderful children’s story, The Wolves in the Walls, and, of course, he’ll be at the first night.

A musical version of the graphic novel, which is clever, creepy and very funny and which tells of Lucy, who hears a pack of wolves in the walls of her house, opens at the Tramway. No one believes the child until it’s too late; the wolves burst out and the family is forced to flee – but the resourceful Lucy persuades them to fight back.

It’s a smart move on the part of NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone to choose a work by the hip novelist, who has just toppled Dan Brown from his perch at No 1 on The New York Times Bestseller List, for her debut production. “Yes, Dan Brown is trampled in the dust of my feet!” exclaims Gaiman, over late-night dessert and drinks after a sold-out Edinburgh gig.

“It’s strange, rather thrilling – and very, very cool.”

The NTS musical is a collaboration with Improbable Theatre and their director Julian Crouch, of Shockheaded Peter fame. Since Gaiman, whose admirers include Norman Mailer, Stephen King, Harvey Weinstein, Lenny Henry, and Tori Amos (she writes songs about him, with lines like, “Will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?”), is incredibly prolific. He’s even dashed off the odd lyric for some of the songs while the show was being workshopped.

“I couldn’t help myself,” he says, adding that – “surreally” – he had only recently returned from Hollywood, where he watched filming of his screenplay for the Robert Zemeckis epic, the $100m Beowulf, starring Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins – “and the dragon fight to end all dragon fights”. It’s due out in 2007. Is Angelina Jolie even lovelier in the flesh? “Everyone asks that. I’ve no idea – she was in costume and had hundreds of light-reflecting patches on her face.”

Despite this brush with mega-stardom, he seems even more boyishly excited at the prospect of the Wolves in the Walls musical. “I guess it’ll bring in the kind of audience that never goes to the theatre,” drawls the former journalist, who though British-born has a slight transatlantic twang after living in the States for many years with his American wife, Mary, and their three children, whose ages range from 22 to 11.

They live in Minneapolis in a rambling Addams Family-style house, complete with turret and wraparound porch – a childhood dream come true, says Gaiman. Nonetheless, his idea of “pornography” is to surf estate agents’ websites lusting after Scottish mansions and stately homes. “I think one day we’ll settle in Scotland – and I’ll become a Scottish writer by adoption.”

In Edinburgh to promote the deliciously dark and deliriously comedic Anansi Boys, Gaiman is surrounded by 250 adoring acolytes. The black leather-jacketed 45-year-old – he looks like a latter-day, tangle-haired Byron touring with a rock band – spends almost two hours signing copies of supplicants’ books using one of his trademark vintage fountain pens.

Happily, no one asks him to autograph a limb only to return later with Gaiman’s signature freshly tattooed, the i’s dotted with gouts of blood, as one guy did in America, where Gaiman reckons he’s still the most famous writer many people have never heard of. Lately, though, he’s become an adjective. Reviewers write of other lesser novelists “doing that whole Gaiman thing”.

Indeed, as SFX Magazine remarked recently, tap ‘Neil’ into Google and you don’t get either Young or Diamond, you get Gaiman. As for his blog www.neilgaiman.com it gets around 1.4 million hits a month and he’s contributed about a million words to it himself.

Heaven only knows how he finds the time. He is indubitably the world’s most successful graphic novelist, the author of the fabled Sandman series, brilliantly illustrated by his long-time collaborator, the artist Dave McKean, and described by Mailer as “a comic strip for intellectuals” and by Stephen King as “a treasure-house of story”. By the time it finished in 1996, Sandman had racked up sales of 1.2 million copies a year and was selling more copies than Superman. Come 2008, Sandman will be back, Gaiman promises, hand on heart, to mark his 20th anniversary.

He’s won innumerable awards in the fantasy field and his comic, The Last Temptation, was a collaboration with Alice Cooper, around which the shock-rocker based his album of the same name. Gaiman’s last novel, the breathtakingly imaginative American Gods, was a top ten bestseller, while a collection of grisly poems, Now We Are Sick, which he co-edited, is a collector’s item.

Gaiman’s highly original novel Neverwhere, about a yuppie who falls into a secret, magical London of sewers, tortuous tunnels and hidden underground places “where you crunch the corpses of dead pigeons underfoot”, was made into a TV series by the BBC. Mirrormask, a gorgeously inventive film collaboration with McKean and the Henson Corporation, premiered to acclaim at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year, but still awaits a general release date. Gaiman has also somehow found time to collaborate with Discworld author Terry Pratchett on their novel Good Omens, which dominated the bestseller lists for seven years.

“It’s not true that I wrote it and then Terry put the jokes in – that’s what everyone always thinks. But, hey, I can do funny! And that’s why Anansi Boys balances humour with the horror. It’s my homage to PG Wodehouse and a long-forgotten American writer called Thorne Smith, whose very witty book The Passionate Witch was filmed as I Married a Witch. He’s one of my all-time favourites. So, yeah, I really wanted to make people laugh – and then think.”

Currently preparing the pilot for a TV series, based on his prize-winning short stories, he’s just embarked on a new children’s story and it’s so scary that he even gave himself the creeps with the first few paragraphs and has had to lay it to one side until he is less disturbed. With typical Gaiman gall, it’s called The Graveyard Book.
–Jackie McGlobe

Feature – Sunday Mercury

From the November 20th Sunday Mercury:

Neil Gaiman lives in a fantasy world.

It is a place of slumming gods who belt out karaoke hits, and fiery devils who quit hell in order to play piano in LA lounge bars.

It is a strange place. A troubling place.

A place Gaiman only discovered because of an 80s rock band from Brum.

Duran Duran, to be precise.

Before the author started writing fantasy fiction he hacked out a living as a hack.

“As a young journalist I got asked to write a rock book,” he recalls. “I told the publishing company I’d love to write about the Velvet Underground or Bowie. But they said ‘No, we’ve got three on our schedule. You can do Barry Manilow, Def Leppard or Duran Duran’. That wasn’t much of a choice. So I chose Duran Duran.”

Gaiman worked on the book for four months.

“I thought I was going to make real money. But one week after the book was published the company went into involuntary bankruptcy. That was the end of the book, and any profits for me. I learned a lesson there. I spent months writing a book I wouldn’t have wanted to read. I did it for the money and didn’t even wind up getting the money either. So I decided in the future I’d always go for artistic satisfaction.”

Which is how Duran Duran (indirectly) forced Gaiman to become the writer he wanted to be – and one of the UK’s premier fantasy authors.

In the late 80s and 90s he scripted the popular Sandman comic, writing stories that were complex, literate and filled with strange events (including the tale where Lucifer grows bored of hell and decides to play piano in LA).

Since then the English author has moved to Minneapolis, where he lurks in a Gothic mansion, producing award-winning novels and film scripts.

The latest addition to his oeuvre, Anansi Boys, is a sequel to the best-selling novel American Gods. Once more we are invited into a universe filled with mighty gods fallen on hard times.

Charles Nancy, the novel’s protagonist, doesn’t realise he is the son of the spider god, Anansi. Then dad dies and for the first time he meets his brother, who also turns out to be a god. Soon big bruv is taking over his life…

Such events are rather strange, even for a fantasy novel. But Gaiman makes even the most outlandish ideas plausible. However, one of the most radical aspects of the book is the central character’s ethnic background.

Charles Nancy is black.

The reason for this, once more, can be traced back to the West Midlands.

Gaiman’s good friend, Dudley-born comedian Lenny Henry, complained to the writer about the lack of interesting black characters in horror movies.

“He loves those movies, but said they never starred anybody who looked like him. That was my starting point. I wanted to put together a story that somebody like Lenny could be in. But the plot kept changing, eventually becoming a novel. However, Lenny’s still involved. I’ve asked him to read the audio version of the book.”

Gaiman has clearly come a long way since those early days of ropey rock biog, although he no longer Durun Duruns from thoughts of Duran Duran.

“About 12 years after writing that book I was wooed by some film producers on a yacht in the Mediterranean,” he says. “Simon Le Bon was there and we got on really well. I liked him, which came as rather a surprise. After a couple of days I told him about my old Duran Duran biography. He remembered it and said it was the one the band liked most of all their old biographies. Maybe I didn’t make much money out of it – but at least I pleased a few rich rock stars!”
–Lorne Jackson

Anansi Boys Review – Boston Globe

From the November 20th Boston Globe:

If you read fantasy fiction, you can’t avoid the productive, ubiquitous Neil Gaiman. And if you have sampled his encyclopedic serial graphic novel ”The Sandman” (primus inter pares among his many adult comics), his varied and entertaining short stories (collected most recently in Smoke and Mirrors), or his earlier novels for adults of all ages (Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods), you won’t want to.

Gaiman also writes terrific books for children (The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, the young adult supernatural chiller Coraline), scripts movies based on his stories, composes nifty poems and songs, dresses in cool clothes and hangs out with rock stars, cheerfully signs autographs and chats with fans, and exudes modesty, graciousness, and social responsibility.

His new novel, Anansi Boys, compels immediate attention with a punning title on the English abusive phrase ”nancy boys” that will probably play better over there than here, where elected officials, among others, prefer to cast macho aspersions on ”girlie men.”

The title is, however, a diversionary tactic. Not only are this novel’s fraternal protagonists emphatically not nancy boys, its central figure, ”Fat Charlie” Nancy, hasn’t carried any spare pounds since early childhood. The novel thus genially accommodates these — and many other — contradictions and paradoxes.

Anansi Boys is a thematic sequel to American Gods (2001), in which Gaiman crafted amusing variations on an ingenious premise: that the ”old gods” of world cultures had immigrated to America, like many of their worshipers and, interestingly, like Gaiman himself — a born-and-raised Briton who is now a Minnesotan.

One such deity is Anansi, the West African trickster who assumed the bodily form of a spider and earned legendary fame as both an inveterate prankster and the savior who reclaimed the world’s vast repository of stories from his archenemy, Tiger, an avatar of hungry energy, who had stolen them.

We get to know this story’s free-spirited and footloose Mr. Nancy only after the fact, following his sudden death in a Florida karaoke bar, preceded by his antic rendition of ”What’s New, Pussycat?” The news reaches his surviving son, Charlie, a 30-ish London-based computer geek, who dutifully makes the transatlantic flight to attend his dad’s funeral, commune with old family friends Mrs. Higgler and, through her, the agelessly sinister Mrs. Dunwiddie, and attempt to
s the alarming disclosure that ”your father was a god. . . . How do you think he got away with not working?”

Charlie, drawn back to England by his ebullient girlfriend, Rosie, and his unrewarding desk job at the Grahame Coats Agency — a sleazy financial operation that ”manages” celebrities’ money — initiates a pattern of journeys that will involve and obsess the novel’s principal characters.

Charlie’s hitherto unknown brother, who calls himself ”Spider,” appears to have been summoned when Charlie removed a creature of the same name from his bathtub. He employs assorted magical powers to effect an exact physical resemblance to Charlie (and thus lay claim to Rosie). He then acts on a message from a mysterious Bird Woman by traveling to a barren ”place at the end of the world,” where the mysteries of his and Charlie’s birthright and brotherhood are explained.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s vulpine boss, Grahame Coats, who has enriched himself by embezzling funds from the estate of Yorkshire comedian Morris Livingstone, eludes the suspicious questions of Livingstone’s widow, Maeve, by absconding to a Caribbean island, thus enabling Gaiman to work in ironic echoes of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Detective Constable Daisy Day, who had briefly been Charlie’s bedmate, is assigned to investigate Coats’s diversionary false accusation that Charlie has been embezzling agency money. Charlie moves back and forth between England and America, reality and dreams (in which Mr. Nancy occasionally pontificates). Higgler and Dunwiddie cast spells and conjure spirits from the vasty deep, as well as Florida, and the Bird Woman’s enigmatic actions eventually make sense. Retold stories from numerous mythologies underscore and echo the Anansi boys’ peregrinations and misadventures. And the brothers’ confrontation with the homicidal Coats is explicitly linked to the tale of Anansi and Tiger — particularly the latter’s prophetic, if inaccurate, threat: ”When you are dead, Anansi’s child — when all your bloodline is dead — then the stories will be mine.”

But the continuity of story (and song, as Mr. Nancy knew; and myth, as Charlie’s odyssey confirms) has a primal priority, beautifully articulated in the novel’s complex denouement. Wrongs are righted. Heroes prove their worth. Human energy and purpose are seen in their proper relation to ”all the animals that people have dreamed of, worshipped or placated” — which are our counterparts and exemplars. And Mr. Nancy rests peacefully in a better place.

And Charlie, who has become a successful singer and fathered a son, has come to terms with the powers and responsibilities of ”a boy who was half a god,” having learned what Gaiman knows better, and communicates more forcefully, than any other contemporary writer: Stories and poems, songs and myths, represent us, sustain and complete us, and survive us, while also ensuring that all that’s best in us survives with them.
–Bruce Allen

Anansi Boys Review – Kansas City Star

From the November 6th Kansas City Star:

When a storyteller as good as Neil Gaiman offers a book as good as Anansi Boys (and the book is quite good), is it inappropriate to ask when he might write something larger? Something more ambitious?

And the only reason to ask is that Gaiman sounded the depth of his ambition back in the 1990s, with the 10-volume graphic novel The Sandman.

At once accessible and complex, densely plotted and big fun, The Sandman was an assertive shout at the lectern of establishment lit from the cheap seats of the comics industry.

It stands as Gaiman’s magnum opus, a huge sprawl of story that continues to dominate his body of work.

None of which mitigates the very real pleasures of Anansi Boys. The title’s boys are brothers, separated as children.

Fat Charlie Nancy, a hapless London bookkeeper, has grown to adulthood unaware of two important facts: He has a brother named Spider. And his charismatic father is actually Anansi, a trickster god of West African folklore. Fat Charlie always knew him as a charming prankster in a green fedora who danced with women, sang in public and deliberately embarrassed his son.

His most embarrassing trick was, perhaps, the naming of Fat Charlie:

He was not fat. Truth to tell, he was not really even chubby, simply slightly soft-looking around the edges. But the name Fat Charlie clung to him, like chewing gum to the sole of a tennis shoe.

He would introduce himself as Charles, or in his early 20s, Chaz, or, in writing, as C. Nancy, but it was no use: The name would creep in, infiltrating the new part of his life just as cockroaches invade the cracks and the world behind the fridge in a new kitchen, and like it or not – and he didn’t – he would be Fat Charlie again.

It was, he knew, irrational, because his father had given him the nickname, and when his father gave things names, they stuck.

A black man born in America and raised in England, Fat Charlie is an archetypally British character: hapless, verbally clumsy, forever terrified of public scrutiny and social missteps. His fiancée, Rosie’s, kindliness can’t overcome the tenuousness of her attachment to him. “As a rule,” Gaiman writes, “Fat Charlie felt embarrassment in his teeth, and in the upper pit of his stomach. If something that even looked like it might be embarrassing was about to happen on his television screen Fat Charlie would leap up and turn it off.”

His brother Spider, raised in Florida, is more clearly his father’s son, a trickster who manipulates the surrounding world, smoothly parting reality like the wind around an airfoil. Spider inherited all of the family traits of charm, wit and bravado; characteristics Fat Charlie admires and believes he himself lacks.

After his father’s funeral, Fat Charlie is told of his father’s status as a deity and his brother’s existence by an elderly woman who says, “if you need to see him, tell a spider. He’ll come running.” Which, of course, Fat Charlie does in a moment of whimsy; confronted the next day with the appearance of his brother Spider Nancy, Fat Charlie begins to realize that the stories about his father might be true.

Spider the trickster asserts himself in Fat Charlie’s life by posing as him; in so doing, he earns the enmity of Fat Charlie’s murderously sociopathic employer, Grahame Coats; he steals Fat Charlie’s fiancée; he generally diminishes Fat Charlie by virtue of an impossible, godlike charisma.

Anansi Boys is a return to the classical British humorist’s style Gaiman deployed in Good Omens, his collaboration with Terry Pratchett.

Rosie’s brittle mother, who hates Fat Charlie and dreads their wedding, is described as:

a high-strung bundle of barely thought-through prejudices, worries and feuds. She lived in a magnificent flat in Wimpole Street with nothing in the enormous fridge but bottles of vitaminized water and rye crackers … Fat Charlie thought it highly likely that Rosie’s mum went out at night in bat form to suck the blood from sleeping innocents. He had mentioned this theory to Rosie once, but she had failed to see the humor in it.

As in The Sandman, and also his previous novel, American Gods, Gaiman continues his exploration of stories as essential projections of human psychology. Most world mythologies have their tricksters; they tend to occupy several roles – the teacher, the helper, the fool.

In the West African folklore from which Gaiman derives his story, Anansi is himself tricked only a single time – when he attempts to fight a tar-baby (or, sometimes a wax girl) after trying to steal food, becoming entangled and stuck.

The story’s evolution into that of the African-American trickster Brer Rabbit resonates with Gaiman’s theme of stories as eternal narratives, persisting
spite occasional personnel changes.

“Anansi,” Gaiman writes, “gave his name to stories. Every story is Anansi’s. Once, before the stories were Anansi’s, they all belonged to Tiger (which is the name the people of the islands call all the big cats), and the tales were dark and evil, and filled with pain, and none of them ended happily. But that was a long time ago. These days the stories are Anansi’s.”

The book’s plot pivots on the wrath of a rival god from African folklore and on the murder of a widowed dancer whose ghost wanders the story, bent on avenging both the pillaging of her husband’s fortune and also her own death. Fat Charlie makes a series of discoveries, the most important of which is that he is more his father’s son than he knows. It is, in short, a romp, and a reminder that Neil Gaiman started writing stories because stories are fun.

Anansi Boys, like American Gods, has several climactic surprises.

Unlike that book, these seem more organically developed; the deliberate clockwork intricacies of American Gods gives way here to a sense of discovery, as though the author was carried on the wind of an archetypal story, with its countless retellings – in this case, the capital-C Comedy, with its lightness of dialogue, mistaken identities and happy ending, and also the hopeful conceit that the hopelessly uncool are, secretly, very cool indeed.
–Chris Packham

Anansi Boys Review – Edmonton Journal

From the October 30th Edmonton Journal:

It’s too bad Karen Armstrong, or the editors at Knopf, chose to ask only high literary authors to write the books in the Myths series. Thus, it probably never occurred to them to look to Neil Gaiman, although he has been reinventing, de- and reconstructing, and reimagining myths from at least the beginning of the amazing Sandman graphic fiction sequence, as well as in his award-winning American Gods a few years ago.

One of the minor gods in that novel, Mr. Nancy, is the titular father figure in Gaiman’s new book, Anansi Boys, and a slyer, wittier, more beguiling trickster figure would be hard to imagine. Indeed, Anansi Boys feels almost as if it were designed to fulfil Armstrong’s call for contemporary artists to “instruct us in mythical lore.”

Beyond being a primer in myth creation, Anansi Boys is almost impossible to classify, except as an exceptional entertainment. Gaiman himself has said it’s not exactly a thriller, not really horror, not quite a ghost story, a romantic comedy, a family epic, a detective story, or any of the other generically conventional forms one might try to define it by, yet it contains something of them all. If it doesn’t fit any of those neat categories, then I guess it’s a novel, and a delightfully light-footed one to boot.

In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie Nancy — who isn’t fat, but Mr. Nancy’s names tend to stick — finds his nice normal world suddenly overturned by the death of his father, and the subsequent appearance of a brother he didn’t know he had. This proves particularly hard on a serious, slim and most definitely mundane young man living in London, with an ordinary job, a nice fiancee and a desire to forget his childhood back in Florida, where his father’s practical jokes only embarrassed him.

Of course, with a god for a father (Fat Charlie hadn’t known, but his father’s old women friends tell him this at the funeral), terms like “death” and “ordinary” tend to be much more malleable than one might think. Moreover, although his job as an accountant at the Grahame Coates Agency seems as straightforward as possible, the agency isn’t. Nor is the boss. Nor his fiancee, as it turns out, nor a police detective he finds in his bed one morning after his brother turns up (well, you just have to read the novel to find out about that). Most un-straightforward and unordinary of all is his newly discovered brother, Spider, who is everything, it seems, Fat Charlie is not. Charismatic, funny, apparently rich and with an ability to pretty well make the world work just the way he wants it to, he appears to have inherited all the godlike powers of their father, while Fat Charlie has none — except a fine singing voice, but he is afraid and embarrassed to perform in public.

Once Spider turns up, things begin to go wrong for Fat Charlie. Or perhaps, as the narrative takes off and begins its many pirouettes, not so wrong as he first thinks. In fact, all the main characters, including the previously flighty and careless Spider, discover that the world, and their place in it, is much stranger and more complex than they thought. But how Fat Charlie finally discovers his own abilities and his real desires is for readers of this delightful novel to find out.

Along the way, Gaiman, demonstrating a song-and-dance ability almost as fine as Mr. Nancy’s, offers revisions of many Anansi tales as well as of the genres this novel keeps approaching and playing with but never becomes. Novelists are tricksters too, and they know all too well the value of story and song, which make the world a better place. As Gaiman reminds us throughout, Anansi stole all the stories from Tiger, but he also brought light into them, for Tiger’s version of the world was nothing but fear and violence. Anansi’s song-and-dance versions gave the stories, and the world, rhythm, movement and the possibility that each next step would change everything.

Gaiman knows the value of surprise, and in Anansi Boys he offers his readers a generous slice of same.
–Douglas Barbour

Anansi Boys Review – SFX

From the November 2005 SFX:

Mr Gaiman is back. If you loved his last adult novel, American Gods, chances are you’ll love Anansi Boys too. Although different in tone – American Gods was many things, but certainly not a comedy – Anansi Boys hangs onto many of its themes and at least one of its characters. It’s a sprightly tale of family woe, skullduggery and ghostly goings-on with all the teeth and wit we’ve come to expect from Gaiman; it may make you laugh but it’ll also make you wince – somewhat like getting a paper cut from a joke you’ve just pulled out of a cracker.

Anansi Boys is the story of Fat Charlie, an affable loser who discovers after his father’s death that he has a brother he’s never met. Spider is everything Fat Charlie isn’t: popular, charismatic, clever – and powerful. Course, this may have something to do with the fact that their dad was actually an ancient god called Anansi, friend of spiders and deadly foe of another old god, Tiger. As Fat Charlie struggles to come to terms with all this new information, Spider starts to meddle in his life – with deadly results…

Part soap opera, part macabre fairy tale, part supernatural horror, the story travels from London to the Caribbean to the deep, dark caves of the mind. Gaiman’s writing is as sharp as ever, full of flair and fun, effortlessly building his world-within-our-world until the edges blur. His characters are huge and full-blooded, from a David Brent-style nightmare boss to a mother-inlaw so horrendous that Bernard Manning would love to whip up a routine about her. Mingled with the humour is a deadly vein of despair, too, reminding us that a joke’s a joke, but someone can still get their tongue ripped out – because this is Neil Gaiman, after all.

Often hilarious and just as often unsettling, Anansi Boys is a dark delight. Just be very, very grateful that Anansi wasn’t your dad.
–Jayne Dearsley