If you remember, not too long ago I wrote about The Shock Of The Fall, and how I was taking part (and organising) a book club at work.
That first meeting went well. We were only three people, but we had a lot of different ideas and feelings about the book. I think, no matter how many people take part, the most interesting thing about book clubs is listening to how different people understood the same book in different ways. There were some points of view I hadn’t considered, and it helped me understand the book better.
As a second book, I selected one of my favourite authors, after a couple of people suggested him.
I’ve read a few titles by Neil Gaiman. I’m still in the process of finishing The Sandman series, which I started in Spanish back when I lived in Madrid, and then re-read (and re-bought) in English when I moved to London.
I’m not sure which books I’ve read before or after others, but I’ve liked pretty much every single story. The only one I’m not a fan of is Smoke and Mirrors, but mainly because I’m not a fan of short stories. I like short stories, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t like compilation of short stories. I get bored, and if I stop reading because I don’t have time, I have the feeling the book is finished, since I probably finished one of the stories, so I don’t have any incentive to keep reading.
I haven’t read American Gods, but I have read many others. My favourite book is Anansi Boys (not only by Gaiman’s, but one of my favourite ones ever), so I was a bit nervous about selecting it for the book club, worrying people wouldn’t like it and would destroy it for me.
If you haven’t read Anansi Boys, then I suggest you stop reading, go to your local library, book shop or online book seller and grab a copy. Go on, I’ll wait.
Done? Great! So, let’s talk legends.
(And as usual, as it happens with this kind of post, there might be spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.)
I love how Neil Gaiman intertwines myth and reality like it’s nothing, like everyday’s business. All the kooky people you bump into on your way to work? Probably gods. Or demons. Or maybe a god that fell on the wrong side of tracks and is now a demon, who knows?
We start the story by being introduced to stories themselves. They’re all songs. And therefore, we’re introduced to the main characters by mean of karaoke.
The thing about Neil Gaiman is that he always lets pieces of information in before stuff actually happens, and that makes you wonder and want to read ahead.
In Anansi Boys, the main character is a normal guy named Charles Nancy, who everyone calls Fat Charlie, even if he’s not particularly fat, just because his dad gave him that name. His dad, he was a kooky person, and he always wore a green fedora hat. Maybe not a key element in the story, but it tells you a lot about the character. He liked a good party and he always embarrassed Fat Charlie.
When the story begins, Fat Charlie’s dad has just died, so he has to travel to Florida to attend his funeral. In Florida, Fat Charlie is told he has a brother that he didn’t know about, and that if he ever wants to talk to his brother, he just needs to tell a spider.
Things start getting interesting, I guess. One night, Fat Charlie tells a spider to tell his brother to pop by, say hi if he ever is in town, and soon enough, his brother comes knocking on his door. Very interestingly, or maybe extremely un-creatively, his brother’s name is Spider.
Spider is a trickster. He likes making mischief and making a mess of things, just because it’s fun. On the contrary, Fat Charlie is a serious person, working in a boring job and about to get married to the perfect, sweet girl.
As we read on, we learn that the father was Anansi, a god. We’re told that all stories belonged to Tiger in the beginning. Not just tigers, but all big cats out there. Stories were scary and bloody, and it was a tough time for humans back then. One day Anansi earnt all the stories, and then the world became a better place. There was laughter and jokes, and puzzle solving.
The whole book is an Anansi story, in which the main characters find themselves in a pickle and they need to use their wits and overcome their insecurities in order to succeed.
Overall, you only get glimpses of people and their descriptions, so you are free to imagine the characters as you like. You get descriptions about how each character behaves, or what their favourite stuff is, or what their song is, but not so much physical description. It still makes the story work seamlessly, even when halfway through the book you realise that you’re actually reading a story about an African god, and you’re reading about people from the West Indies, and of African origins. There isn’t a big ho-hah about it, but once you see it, you wonder how you hadn’t noticed before (or maybe that was just me).
Anyway, the book is full of metaphors, tricks, and paragraphs I would like to print and frame. For example, that the world is made up of groups of up to 500 people and everyone else are just extras. Who hasn’t thought about their life as a movie at some point? Sometimes we even think of a theme song (or wish we could come up with one), and that’s also referenced in the book. Also, how all stories are strands of a web, and they all lead to the centre of it.
There are some parts of the book that seem a bit farfetched, but if you take the spider web analogy into consideration, and the fact that it’s one of Anansi’s stories, I guess they make sense, like everyone going to St. Andrews for the grand finale.
A sentence that really resonated with me was when Fat Charlie said that the details weren’t important but that it was more about having the confidence. I find that so true. So often in life we stress over the details, when it’s really the overall that matters. For example, baking a cake for a friend who is leaving and worrying about making it perfect, that the texture is incredible, the taste is the best, whether the icing looks smooth and amazing, etc., when in reality what matters is that you took the time to show another person that you cared for them. It doesn’t matter whether you use mixed herbs, or penguin candles, the important bit is that you want things to happen, and have the right attitude to make them so.
I’ve read this book about 4-5 times, and I love it every time. Every time I read it, I find a new details I hadn’t noticed before.
It seems they want to make a mini series of it, and I really can’t wait to watch it!
Personally, I really like reading and learning about legends and myths, and the different stories different cultures have, so I would like to know more about Anansi’s stories, and Tiger’s. Do you know any of these stories? Maybe other than the ones appearing in the book, and definitely others than the ones showing after a quick online search?
Have you read the book? What did you think about it?
Next book we’re reading at work is Gone Girl. Many people have read it already and, as you know, it’s now a film. I haven’t read much about it, just enough to know the general storyline, and maybe have one spoiler or two, but I am very excited about it. Our book club meeting will be on 7th January, right after the Christmas holidays, so keep an eye out for the blog post around then!