ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman (Headline 348 pp. £17.99)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney
There is a kind of fantasy known as Slick Fantasy, both because it used to appear in glossy magazines in the 1930s and because it goes down so very smooth. Tales of wishes granted and things bought at too dear a cost, in which smart-ass heroes dance their way around villains who think that they are clever, and talk too much. Tales in which true love and sexual banter are kissing cousins, tales which feel like you heard them before, in the most comforting of ways.
'Anansi Boys' is the story of Fat Charlie Nancy and of Spider who gradually discover what it is to be the son of a god - Spider is Charlie's half-brother, but not in the usual way. It is a story with karaoke in it, and a crooked accountant, and an expert on computer crime, and a wax apple with a bite out of it. It is a story about likable people who cannot stand each other, and about a world of totemic gods where there is real danger for all of us.
Anansi is the trickster spider god of African myth; he is also an embarrassing elderly man with a taste for practical jokes. Charlie, who is not actually all that fat, has had his life messed up by the father he hardly knows, but who lumbered him with a nickname. Discovering he has a long- lost brother with all of their father's flair for causing trouble is not, as it happens, the happiest day of his life, and that is before Spider seduces his fiancee and gets him in trouble with the police.
This is the most accomplished of Gaiman's novels thus far, though not the most interesting. 'Coraline' is a sinister masterpiece of children's literature and 'American Gods' a superior mythological thriller. 'Anansi Boys' has charm going for it, and plotting that pirouettes on a dime; it is also a meditation on story. Stories about the slick tricks of a trickster are, in the end, better than the alternatives - stories of how predators chewed bones, for instance - because they allow for the possibility of urbane, sophisticated tales like this one.