So I have a chequered history with Neil Gaiman. The entire internet appears to think that he is like the Best Thing Ever, but neither Stardust nor Neverwhere managed to convince me. But then I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I liked that one, and it had cats in, so I picked up Anansi Boys. Anansi Boys lies, I think, somewhere in the middle.
Fat Charlie's father is dead, and it turns out that he was Anansi, the Caribbean spider god. Fat Charlie's brother, Spider, turns up and begins systematically ruining his life: he sleeps with Fat Charlie's fiancee (which was more than Charlie ever managed to do) and gets him into trouble at work, and oh so many other fun things. Spider, you see, got all the god magic Charlie missed out on. So Charlie, understandably annoyed, seeks out magical ways to get rid of him.
It's funny - in a predictable, sitcom kind of way - and full of a mad mix of ghosts and gods and psychopaths, and it's also a rather nice familial tale of coming to terms with your culture. Gaiman's writing is mythic and resonant and memorable and occasionally dark, and generally a pleasure to read.
Unfortunately, it's when he gets to the female characters that the whole thing falls down. The two female leads, Rosie and Daisy (and note the similarity in their names; it's like Gaiman can't even be bothered with thinking up better ones), function as little more than rewards for the brothers, and ways of continuing the family line; and Charlie's relationship with Daisy seems to come out of thin air (which isn't to say it's not predictable: you can see it coming a mile off, in the way the book's structured, though it's not emotionally plausible). And I feel like the Rosie/Spider thing is really problematic: Rosie's choice not to sleep with Charlie before they're married is presented as a choice made because Charlie wasn't hot enough or something. That's not the kind of message we should be promoting.
I enjoyed reading Anansi Boys, on the whole, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it. I love that it's a story about a culture we don't often hear from, necessarily, and what Gaiman has to say about stories themselves is true if familiar. But I don't love what Gaiman does to his women.