The West African spider-trickster god Anansi presides benignly over this ebullient partial sequel to Gaiman’s award-winning fantasy American Gods (2001).
In his earthly incarnation as agelessly spry “Mr. Nancy,” the god has died, been buried and mourned (in Florida), and has left (in England) an adult son called Fat Charlie—though he isn’t fat; he is in fact a former “boy who was half a god . . . broken into two by an old woman with a grudge.” His other “half” is Charlie’s hitherto unknown brother Spider, summoned via animistic magic, thereafter an affable quasi-double and provocateur who steals Charlie’s fiancé Rosie and stirs up trouble with Charlie’s blackhearted boss, “weasel”-like entrepeneur-embezzler Grahame Coats. These characters and several other part-human, part-animal ones mesh in dizzying comic intrigues that occur on two continents, in a primitive “place at the end of the world,” in dreams and on a conveniently remote, extradition-free Caribbean island. The key to Gaiman’s ingenious plot is the tale of how Spider (Anansi) tricked Tiger, gaining possession of the world’s vast web of stories and incurring the lasting wrath of a bloodthirsty mortal—perhaps immortal—enemy. Gaiman juggles several intersecting narratives expertly (though when speaking as omniscient narrator, he does tend to ramble), blithely echoing numerous creation myths and folklore motifs, Terry Southern’s antic farces, Evelyn Waugh’s comic contes cruel, and even—here and there—Muriel Spark’s whimsical supernaturalism. Everything comes together smashingly, in an extended dénouement that pits both brothers against all Tiger’s malevolent forms, resolves romantic complications satisfactorily and reasserts the power of stories and songs to represent, sustain and complete us. The result, though less dazzling than American Gods, is even more moving.
Intermittently lumpy and self-indulgent, but enormously entertaining throughout. And the Gaiman faithful—as hungry for stories as Tiger himself—will devour it gratefully.