it is of course true that patience is a virtue. And I am a great believer in deferred gratification (the part where you're working like crazy is always more fun than the part later on when you get the rewards) and I also hate asking for favors. However although I have been restraining myself for months now I suddenly realized that I was going to DIE if I didn't get hold of a copy of Anansi Boys AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Waiting till September seemed absolutely out of the question. (Teasers like this make me completely crazed.) And fortunately the altogether excellent Ginger Clark was not immune to my desperate pleading; galley no. 17 is temporarily in my custody, I've just finished reading it and am still in an agony of satisfied pleasure.
Everything about Anansi Boys is lovely; I am not a laugh-out-loud reader, but it is impossible not to have a huge smile on your face the whole time you’re reading a novel that is this delightful and funny and just plain painfully endearing. (Also there are some scary parts, especially if you saw The Birds at an impressionable age.) It’s got some of the same charms as Michael Chabon's Summerland and Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky (and it harks back in various ways to American Gods, which is the best hybrid road-novel-small-town-serial-killer-mystery-ghost-story-grifter-coming-of-age-tale you will ever read). And yet it is also like no other book I can think of, it’s just its own thing. And a very good thing too.
There's a thing I particularly love about the style here, I think of it as a very English feature although I suppose it's not so much inherently English as it is a distinguishing characteristic of British sketch comedy from the 60s and 70s. It's a kind of joke that works by calculated repetition and by subverting the proper forms of similes and metaphors so that they fold back in on themselves (if you're not sure what I mean, check out the Blackadder scripts; I've pasted in a chunk below because this novel brought that dialogue so strongly to mind).
Here's what Gaiman does with the thing, in a few sample passages taken almost at random (the pace of the narrative is gentle and the outright comedy usually catches you slightly off guard):
It was sort of like Macbeth, thought Fat Charlie, an hour later; in fact, if the witches in Macbeth had been four little old ladies, and if instead of stirring cauldrons and intoning dread incantations they had just welcomed Macbeth in and fed him on turkey, and rice and peas, spread out on white china plates on a red-and-white patterned plastic table cloth, not to mention sweet potato pudding and spicy cabbage, and encouraged him to take second helpings, and thirds, and then, when Macbeth had declaimed that nay, he was stuffed nigh unto bursting and on his oath could truly eat no more, the witches had pressed upon him their own special island rice pudding and a large slice of Mrs Bustamonte’s famous pineapple upside-down cake, it would have been exactly like Macbeth.
“I’m Fat Charlie Nancy,” said Spider.
“Why is he saying that?” asked Rosie’s mother. “Who is he?”
“I’m Fat Charlie Nancy, your future son-in-law, and you really like me,” said Spider, with utter conviction.
Rosie’s mother swayed and blinked and stared at him. “You may be Fat Charlie,” she said uncertainly, “but I don’t like you.”
“Well,” said Spider, “you should. I am remarkably likeable. Few people have ever been as likeable as I am. There is, frankly, no end to my likeability. People gather together in public assemblies to discuss how much they like me. I have several awards, and a medal from a small country in South America which pays tribute both to how much I am liked and my general all-around wonderfulness. I don’t have it on me, of course. I keep my medals in my sock drawer.”
The world was his lobster, his bib was round his neck, and he had a pot of melted butter and an array of grotesque but effective lobster-eating implements and devices at the ready.
It's the second repetition of the word "lobster," stuck into the phrase "an array of grotesque but effective lobster-eating implements," that I find utterly charming. I am completely incapable myself of this kind of humor.
Anyway, here's the novel's first chapter online. Go and see what you think. But I highly recommend that you preorder a copy from Amazon or--assuming you're a more energetic and socially responsible person than I am--get one from your good local independent bookstore. There's a bit here about a lime that picks up on a thing with wax fruit near the opening that is one of the most adorable things I've read for a long time, also a very funny minor aside about one character's roommate, who blogs anonymously in the persona of a scandalous Royal. Lots of cool wind-ey twists and turns in the plot. And great characters. All right, I will stop now, I don't know why these books make me go on with such evangelical fervor....
*And here's the opening of my particular favorite Blackadder episode, Ink and Incapability--the site above has all the scripts, if I am infringing someone's copyright just tell me and I will delete it;
Prince Regent: (wakes, shouts) Oh, oh, oh, Blackadder! BLACKADDER!
Blackadder: (enters) Your Highness.
P: Wha--wha--what time is it?
B: Three o'clock in the afternoon, Your Highness.
P: Oh, thank God for that; I thought I'd overslept.
B: I trust you had a pleasant evening, sir...?
P: Well, no, actually. The most extraordinary thing happened. Last night, I was having a bit of a snack at the Naughty Hellfire Club, and some fellow said that I had the wit and sophistication of a donkey.
B: Oh, an absurd suggestion, sir.
P: You're right, it is absurd.
B: ...unless, of course, it was a particularly *stupid* donkey.
P: You see? If only *I'd* thought of saying that...
B: Well, it is so often the way, sir, too late one thinks of what one *should* have said. Sir Thomas More, for instance -- burned alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism -- must have been kicking himself, as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say, "I recant my Catholicism."
P: Well, yes, you see, only the other day, Prime Minister Pitt called me an "idle scrounger," and it wasn't until ages later that I thought how clever it would've been to have said, "Oh, bugger off, you old fart!" I need to improve my mind, Blackadder. I want people to say, "That George, why, he's as clever as a stick in a bucket of pig swill."
B: And how do you suggest this miracle is to be achieved, Your Highness?
P: Easy: I shall become best friends with the cleverest man in England. That renowned brainbox, Dr. Samuel Johnson, has asked me to be patron of his new book, and I intend to accept.
B: Would this be the long-awaited Dictionary, sir?
P: Oh, who cares about the title as long as there's plenty of juicy murders in it. I hear it's a masterpiece.
B: No, sir, it is not. It's the most pointless book since "How To Learn French" was translated into French.