Anansi Boys Reading Group Guide – Atlanta Journal-Constitution

NOTE: As one would expect from a reading group guide, the following contains SPOILERS. So if you are trying to avoid those for Anansi Boys, please skip over this entry.

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From the November 27th Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Reading Room”:

Fat Charlie Nancy, the utterly self-conscious central figure in Neil Gaiman’s feisty new novel, Anansi Boys, slogs through his empty workdays at an actor’s agency in London and suffers through organized evenings with his perky fiancee, Rosie. When his estranged and eccentric father dies, a family secret emerges that threatens to send Charlie into the depths of embarrassment and chaos. What begins as a witty look at family entanglements quickly becomes, thanks to Gaiman’s boisterous storytelling gifts, a fantastic spin on the wonderful powers of disorder.

As the novel begins, Rosie requests that Charlie track down his long-lost father and invite him to their upcoming nuptials. Charlie is wary — Mr. Nancy was a tricky man who made his son’s life difficult. As a child, our reluctant hero was nicknamed by his father “Fat Charlie,” and now, years after the weight was lost, the moniker remains. Once, when Fat Charlie changed schools on what just happened to be President’s Day, his dad convinced him to dress up as a president, and Fat Charlie, believing it a tradition, showed up among casually clad strangers in a President Taft costume.

Why can’t Fat Charlie let go of the effect his father has had on his life? What does this novel have to say about the lingering sway of parents?

Responding to Rosie’s request, Fat Charlie makes inquiries of his old neighbors and discovers that his father has recently passed away. Returning to Florida for the funeral, Charlie learns from old Mrs. Higgler, who lived next door to the Nancy house, that his father was actually a powerful otherworldly being named Anansi, the spider-god. Fat Charlie is incredulous but soon accepts this new fact as yet another way his father has ruined his life.

Determine how the author plays with the idea that many parents are godlike in their ability to rule, control and shame.

Not only does Fat Charlie learn his dad was a god but Mrs. Higgler also reveals that Fat Charlie has a brother named Spider who has inherited all his father’s powers. Soon, Spider shows up in London, barging into his brother’s life and disrupting the safe, calm and shallow existence Fat Charlie has sketched for himself.

What is Spider up to by leading his brother toward wine, women and song?

Spider, like his father, is a trickster figure, a supernatural being who is out to upset the balance of order in the world and force necessary change. Just after arriving on the scene, Spider is masquerading as his brother, flirting with Rosie and confronting Fat Charlie’s talent agent boss. Soon, Fat Charlie is being investigated for embezzlement by an attractive female cop and witnessing Rosie fall deeply in lust with somebody she thinks is her fiance.

Look at what happens to Fat Charlie as he experiences a complete reshuffling of his life, thanks to Spider. Consider the benefits of a bit of bedlam in one’s life.

After the funeral in Florida, Fat Charlie discovers a picture in his father’s effects: “a photo of Fat Charlie himself, aged perhaps five or six years old, standing beside a mirrored door, so it looked at first glance as if two Fat Charlies, side by side, were staring seriously out of the photograph at you.”

Is it possible that Spider and Fat Charlie represent two sides of a single person? What does Neil Gaiman seem to be saying about the duality of human nature?

Possessing a mixture of wisdom and rebellion, the trickster figure, common to a variety of primal religions, represents the combination of good and bad. If Fat Charlie is the obedient and passive brother, Spider exists as the more spirited and conniving doppelganger.

Ask yourself how both Spider and Fat Charlie begin to develop in themselves the relevant qualities they discover in each other.

As Mrs. Higgler spells out the story of Anansi, Fat Charlie learns of a vital dream world existing outside reality that contains anthropomorphic animals that suffer from the shenanigans of the mischievous spider. In Anansi Boys, Gaiman often dips into his tale, offering comments on the nature of the legends that describe the intersection between the natural and supernatural worlds. “Stories,” he says, “are like spiders, with all their long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each.”

How does Gaiman’s narrative reflect the interconnectedness of man and myth?

Anansi Boys is filled with colorful characters — from Daisy, the computer crime expert who finds herself drawn to the complicated Nancy brothers, to Maeve Livingstone, wife of one of England’s best-loved comedians, who is swindled out of her fortune by Fat Charlie’s boss — whose lives are derailed in fantastic ways by the arrival of strange creatures.

Determine the importance in “Anansi Boys” of both worlds coming together to enable connections to be made and lives to be embellished.

–Guide by Greg Changnon