This is the story of Anasi the Spider God and of his two human boys that he fathered with a human woman. It’s a funny story that contains a murder, a Bird woman, a Tiger, a lime and loads of singing.
“Now, Anansi stories, they have wit and trickery and wisdom. Now, all over the world, all of the people they aren’t just thinking of hunting and being hunted anymore. Now they’re starting to think their way out of problems—sometimes thinking their way into worse problems.
This was a very funny story. And I’ve devoured it on a two hour flight, chuckling and guffawing like a mad woman and getting some puzzled stares from the flight attendants. Neil Gaiman does have a good sense of humour and you can see him mixing up folklore with modern day living and the effect is sometimes surprisingly good.
“People respond to the stories. They tell them themselves. The stories spread, and as people tell them, the stories change the tellers. Because now the folk who never had any thought in their head but how to run from lions and keep far enough away from rivers that the crocodiles don’t get an easy meal, now they’re starting to dream about a whole new place to live. The world may be the same, but the wallpaper’s changed. Yes? People still have the same story, the one where they get born and they do stuff and they die, but now the story means something different to what it meant before.”
I didn’t realise that the characters were Black until a tenth through the novel (and then forgot about the race aspect altogether until the end). Anyone who has read American Gods or heard traditional African folktales will have met Anansi before, but even here the story emphasises the cultural distinctiveness of the Caribbean island where this Anansi lives without employing heavy racial markers. I would have loved to have listened to the audiobook for this specific story as I’ve heard it’s performed by comedian Lenny Henry (Brit of Caribbean descent).
Who was Anasi?
“You got to remember, Fat Charlie, that your father was a god.”
“A god among men?” “No. Just a god.” She said it without any kind of emphasis, as flatly and as normally as she might have said “he was diabetic” or simply “he was black.”
The story starts off with Fat Charlie (who wasn’t actually fat) goes off to America for his father’s funeral. He was never close to his father and bore a slight resentment that his father had to lead a carefree life and he was the man of the family, taking care of business and his sick mother (until she passed away).
After he attended the funeral, the lady next door explains that his father was a God, that she knew him when she was a little girl (this woman was in her 90s) and that he kissed her once before he met Fat Charlie’s mother.
At this point, the author helps us out with a small background of Anasi.
Anansi was a spider, when the world was young, and all the stories were being told for the first time. He used to get himself into trouble, and he used to get himself out of trouble. The story of the Tar-Baby, the one they tell about Bre’r Rabbit? That was Anansi’s story first. Some people thinks he was a rabbit. But that’s their mistake. He wasn’t a rabbit. He was a spider.
Anansi stories go back as long as people been telling each other stories. Back in Africa, where everything began, even before people were painting cave lions and bears on rock walls, even then they were telling stories, about monkeys and lions and buffalo: big dream stories. People always had those proclivities. That was how they made sense of their worlds. Everything that ran or crawled or swung or snaked got to walk through those stories, and different tribes of people would venerate different creatures.
Lion was the king of beasts, even then, and Gazelle was the fleetest of foot, and Monkey was the most foolish, and Tiger was the most terrible, but it wasn’t stories about them people wanted to hear. Anansi gave his name to stories. Every story is Anansi’s.
So this one becomes a story about Anasi, but only by extension as it’s Anasi’s boy, Fat Charlie who will be the hero of this story. And his brother.
Fat Charlie did not know he had a brother and when the old woman tells him that he only has to tell a spider that he wants to meet his brother to get reunited with him – he does so on a whim when he returns to England.
Fat Charlie and the Spider
Fat Charlie was engaged with Rosie, had a nice and cosy job at an investment company run by Grahame Coates and hated his 9-5 job and his future mother-in-law to be.
Grahame Coats came with both names. Not Mister Coats. Never just Grahame. It was his agency, and it represented people, and took a percentage of what they earned for the right to have represented them.
The moment that Fat Charlie calls Spider, his entire life turns upside down. He goes on a night out with his brother, sees seduction in action, wakes up next to Daisy while his future-mother-in-law pays him a surprise visit. His brother goes to work as him and also has dinner with his fiance pretending to be Fat Charlie all the way.
“It’s me,” said Spider’s voice.
“You told them I was dead?”
“Better than that. I told them I was you.”
“But.” Fat Charlie tried to think clearly. “But you’re not me.”
“Hey. I know that. I told them I was.”
Charlie sees some benefits from having Spider in his life. His work gives him a surprise payrise and a week off (after Spider finds some offshore accounts where Grahame Coates was siphoning money to and blackmails him into not getting Fat Charlie fired) and Rosie seems to glow with excitement about Fat Charlie/Spider.
This is when things start to go wrong. Rosie falls in love with Spider and Spider decides to take Rosie away from Fat Charlie.
Fat Charlie flies to America to find out how to banish his brother with God-like powers and ends up making a deal with Bird Woman which backfires as she wants both dead.
Rosie meets Fat Charlie and Spider together and eventually Spider comes clean causing Rosie to break off the engagement with Fat Charlie.
Rosie took the chocolates and said, “Thank you.” There were two men and they looked and sounded completely different, and she still could not work out which one of them was her fiancé. “I’m going mad, aren’t I?” she said, her voice taut. It was easier, now she knew what was wrong.
Fat Charlie gets arrested for embezzlement due to Grahame Coates making it look like it was him and Spider sulks. He gets attacked by angry flamingos sent by Bird Woman and that was one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever read.
They were pecking at him and clawing at him and buffeting him with their wings, and he knew that that was not actually the problem. The problem would be being suffocated under a fluffy pink blanket of feathers with birds attached. It would be an astonishingly undignified way to go, crushed by birds, and not even particularly intelligent birds.
So Spider gets Fat Charlie out of jail and while they’re trying to work out how to get things back to normal, they get ambushed by birds from every direction.
Fat Charlie looked at the pigeons, and the pigeons looked back at him. “So what’s the worst that could happen?” he asked Spider, in an undertone. “They crap all over us?”
The book turns from a mild ride into a roller-coaster and all of a sudden, all of the characters are together again. Grahame Coates kills a woman, her ghosts meets Anasi and dances with him and then swears to pay retribution to her killer. Grahame escapes to the tropical islands of St. Andrews in the Caribbean and Fat Charlie goes to find mr. Higgler on the same island. Rosie and her mother go on a cruise ship which anchors on the same island and they run into Grahame Coates who kidnapps them both and imprisons them in his basement. Spider is kidnapped by Bird Woman and given to the Tiger who wants revenge for all the Anasi stories that had been stolen from him. And Fat Charlie gets a lime and gets known across the island immediately.
“I’m trying to find someone,” said Fat Charlie. “On the island.”
“A lady named Callyanne Higgler. She’s here from Florida. She’s an old friend of my family.”
The young man closed his book thoughtfully, then he looked at Fat Charlie through narrowed eyes. When people do this in paperback books it gives an immediate impression of dangerous alertness, but in reality it just made the young man look like he was trying not to fall asleep. He said,
“Are you the man with the lime?”
“The man with the lime?”
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Lemme see it, nuh?”
The young man nodded, gravely.
“No, you can’t. It’s back in my room.”
“But you are the man with the lime.”
The ending was as much fun as the ride there! Spider escapes the Tiger by calling other spiders to help him.
Spider could not see them, but he knew they were all there: the great spiders and the small spiders, venomous spiders and biting spiders: huge hairy spiders and elegant chitinous spiders. Their eyes took whatever light they could find, but they saw through their legs and their feet, constructing vibrations into a virtual image of the world about them.
Spider venom comes in many forms. It can often take a long while to discover the full effects of the bite. Naturalists have pondered this for years: there are spiders whose bite can cause the place bitten to rot and to die, sometimes more than a year after it was bitten. As to why spiders do this, the answer is simple. It’s because spiders think this is funny, and they don’t want you ever to forget them.
Rosie and her mother escape the prison in the cellar and Grahame Coates makes a deal with Tiger to allow him into our world. The ghost of the woman that Grahame killed kicks the tiger’s ass and everyone is happy.
Spider marries Rosie and they start a charity out of the hidden offshore accounts that the police could not find, Rosie’s mother moves nearby and pesters them about grandchildren, Fat Charlie marries the police officer Daisy and has a boy with her. He teaches the boy songs, changes his career to be a singer and talks to mermaids during low tide.
Great ending 🙂