Originally posted at my Goodreads Account
Trigger warning for discussions of rape by deception
Nearly everything about Anansi Boys is perfect. It’s funny, it’s got a terrific, close to film-noir storyline infused with magical elements, and the writing makes you genuinely care about the characters. It’s the best book with protagonists of colour I ever read from a white author. One particularly neat example of that is the way that the descriptions of characters are handled; rather than identifying all characters by their race, only the white ones get special mention of being white. Since the default of most in society is to see characters with their race unspecified as white, I found this particularly brilliant.
The only reason that this isn’t five stars is a a small, niggling fact that I can’t get out of my brain, dealing with an important arc of the story, so if you don’t want spoilers, do stop reading here please.
I was disturbed by the fact that Rosie, originally the fiancee of the protagonist Fat Charlie, was a victim of rape by deception by Fat Charlie’s quasi-magical brother, Spider. Very little is made of the fact that this is, in fact, a form of rape. After the deception is revealed, Rosie falls out of love with Fat Charlie and begins to fall in love with Spider, thinking about him constantly, and eventually marrying him at the end. Spider, for his part, falls in love with Rosie too, after seeing so many women as being interchangeable sex toys. He undergoes a great deal of growth as a character following his bombastic introduction to the story, eventually having it revealed that he is, in essence, a sort of break-off of Fat Charlie, through magical means. He becomes more like his “brother”, more timid, more cautious, more aware and sensitive to the feelings of others. But I could not get over how he had so easily used Rosie, deceived her, and misrepresented himself as Fat Charlie in order to sleep with her. The fact that this is rape is glossed over in favour of Fat Charlie’s angst at the fact that his brother “went further with her than I ever did” as well as stewing over the fact that Rosie had been saving herself for marriage, and was presumably a virgin until Spider came along.
This was wiggling in the back of my brain the entire time I was reading the rest of the story. It didn’t ruin it for me, but the way it was treated as bizarre yet matter-of-fact, like so many of the magical elements of the story, didn’t escape me. It was at least made clear that Rosie’s feelings for Spider, after a while, were at her own volition, and were not a product of magical manipulation by Spider.
The rest of the story was excellent. The intelligent detective constable Daisy, with her fascinating background which led to entry in the police work, her determined zeal for justice, and her willingness to put herself in precarious positions to obtain that justice was incredible. Fat Charlie’s emerging confidence and bravery as he deals with elements he had never considered before is wonderful. The writing is crisp, descriptive, and complex, with a satisfying villain proving that not all monsters come from realms of magic.
In the words of Shel Silverstein then, the best way to describe Anansi Boys is “Almost perfect, but not quite.”