Monday, March 9, 2009

Jane Austen and Tim Burton's Love Child (Books - Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman)

Fat Charlie discovers that two of his family members are gods only when his father dies one day while singing karaoke. He also learns that he has a brother who can be summoned by talking to a spider (those gods). Eager to see the brother he never knew he had, Charlie finds a spider and asks. Said brother knocks on the door and proceeds to make Charlie a fraud suspect at work and to sleep with Charlie's fiancee, something Charlie has yet to do. It should come as no surprise that Charlie decides maybe he doesn't need to see his brother so badly after all. He visits several old women friends of his father's in Florida, who also happen to be witches.
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 a fed him turkey and rice and peas spread out on white china plates on a red-and-white patterned plastic tablecloth - 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.
You know what Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys reminds me of? One of the old screwball comedies. This is just like Bringing Up Baby or Philadelphia Story. Sure the premise is absurd, but the more entertaining it becomes - either by be amusing or horrifying - the more you leave the question of whether this actually could happen alone and just enjoy the ride.

Gaiman employs an authoritative omniscient narrator who, at times, pulls back for a long shot and seems to chuckle into his hand. At the end of a scene in which Daisy investigates Charlie's computer for evidence of his embezzling the Grahame Coats Agency, Gaiman employs a crain shot, pulling his camera up and far away until it spies Coats asleep in his home:
While fast asleep in his bedroom, in a large but certainly not ostentatious house in Purley, Grahame Coats slept. If there was any justice in the world, he would have moaned and sweated in his sleep, tortured by nightmares, the furies of his conscience lashing him with scorpions. Thus it pains me to admit that Grahame Coats slept like a well-fed milk-scented baby, and he dreamed of nothing at all.

Somewhere in Grahame Coat's house, a grandfather clock chimed politely, twelve times. In London, it was midnight. In Florida it was seven in the evening.

Either way, it was the witching hour.

Marvelous. It is as if Jane Austen had met Tim Burton and had a love child. They would create a scathing social satiric horror fantasy just like this one.

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