I found a copy of Anansi Boys in a bookstore in Sao Paulo and decided it was time to put an end to having to admit I hadn’t read any if Neil Gaiman’s books.
The admission was as surprising to me as to others given my love of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. When I first read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I thought the humour was completely original and unique and it wasn’t until many years later, when I read Dickens, that I realised it was just that Adams was an astute observer of life.
This same streak of humour can be found in Gaiman’s work and it was very refreshing to be enjoying such humour once more.
Most people are probably aware of Gaiman’s work through his previous novel, American Gods, which was adapted into a TV series. One of the key characters of Anansi Boys, Mr Nancy, an incarnation of the West African trickster god Anansi, also appears in American Gods.
After already establishing himself in the workd of comics, Gaiman completed his first novel, Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett and which was later made into a TV series by Amazon and the BBC.
Anansi Boys, released in 2005, tells the story of Charles Nancy whose life is turned upside down after he travels to Florida to attend the funeral of his father. The book received enough votes for Hugo nomination in 2006 but Gaiman withdrew the book.
In his web based journal, he explained why: “I suppose partly I did it because I have three Hugos already, and I felt it was better to get more names on the ballot that weren’t mine, and partly because I think I feel more comfortable when the things of mine that get Hugo nominations are marginally closer to SF than to pure fantasy, but mostly because when they told me Anansi Boys was nominated it just felt right to say no thank you, this time. Obviously I’m grateful to everyone who voted for it, and happy for the other awards that it’s won and is nominated for, but on this one, well, it just felt right to say no.”
In 2007, the book was adapted by the BBC into a radio play. Gaiman stated that he was displeased with the BBC radio adaptation, because “budget cutbacks and less broadcasting time for drama [have caused BBC to decide] it would have to be an hour-long adaptation. And bad things happen when novels get cut down to an hour. So despite a really terrific cast and production and as solid a script as could be in the circumstances, I was not happy. It felt like one of those Readers’ Digest condensed books”.
One of the consequences of his disappointment with this adaptation was that he decided to write his own screen adaptation which he finished in 2010 around the time he was also wriying for Doctor Who.
In 2017 a six part adaptation was commissioned by Dirk Maggs. Dirk Maggs has adapted no fewer than five of Neil’s books for Radio, including Neverwhere and Good Omens. This adaptation of Anansi Boys is apparently Neil Gaiman’s favourite so far.
If, like me, to hadn’t read one of Neil Gaiman’s novels, you could do a lot worse than start with Anansi Boys which is an entertaining read full of entertaining characters and events. In relation to my own novels, the book has the same light hearted feel of my Mastery of the Stars series but is fantasy as opposed to science fiction.
Reading Anansi Boys is certainly a good way to avoid writing.
(all paid links)