RSS

A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James

22 Dec

Not BriefSeven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught.

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a dazzling display of masterful storytelling exploring this near-mythic event. Spanning three decades and crossing continents, A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, drug lords, journalists, prostitutes, gunmen and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century

Rifling through the first few pages, the intrepid reader will notice a three and a half page cast list but fear not, unlike the Russian epics the characters here are easier to identify through name as well as deed.  Only the most obscure players had me turning to the front for reference but even that was only an occassional break to the story.

Marlon James weaves a lot of threads together throughout the narrative from the politics of the cold war to the internecine local gang clashes in the impoverished inner cities; as well as the varied and disparate lives of many various people’s caught in the crossfire.  In a sense the book is epic in both the overall view of the subjects discussed and on the personal level but in the end it didn’t quite convince me it was one of the giants of the modern literary world.

There are parts of the book I really enjoyed, the first two sections especially felt visceral and gritty, like a Jamaican version of the The Wire. Some of the points made are the same: the observance that there’s ‘not a single old man in the ghetto’, for instance and the treatment of women who are expected to breed offspring before their man dies (there is a tacit acceptance of this already) which is just the norm.  It’s a stark depiction of Jamaica at the time and although it’s shocking it is also indicative of the nature of the lives led and the problems that society fails to fix continually and one thinks almost inevitably.

Each chapter has a different voice and is short which allows the plot to advance from many points of view and has the advantage of making a large cast of characters familiar quickly.  Despite its length, the story initially feels snappy and as the lives of the abundance of characters unfold through a tightly woven plot, there are wonderfully human touches like Nina’s drop into sibilance when she gets annoyed which adds an extra layer of believability.

The maneuverings and power plays of politicians and gang bosses were as arresting as the struggles of everyday people just trying to get by, this heady and emotional mix helps the reader carry on even in the face of the culture of violence that pervades Kingston.  Bob Marley (elevated to almost mythic proportions here) is a fascinating character as well and the only one who doesn’t get a first person voice in the book, his role being to show how somebody with a message will always be subject to political propaganda despite their best intentions, or perhaps in spite of them.

There are a number of points that may put the reader off, the relentless Jamaican colloquialisms I personally found were not a problem, the context is usually clear enough to distinguish the point of the words; the copious amounts violence and swearing are another.  Personally none of that particularly bothered me, except the odd grim scene but around the 500 page mark, I started to wary of the incessant repetition of certain phrases which eventually left me cold as the desired effect they had at the beginning had dissipated.

Likewise the vulgarities around sex, particularly the homosexual variety seemed more childish than anything, a lack of education would also be a fair assessment but if I can put my realism hat on for a second I have to question why no other slang terms for such subjects had been invented in the sixteen years the book covers,  a minor – and possibly over picky – point but it rankles.  There is a lack of speech marks too, an omission that usually has me seething but James’ text was a lot easier to follow than (for example) Cormac McCarthy’s sometimes confusing dialogue but ranting about that would just be covering old ground again as regular readers will recall.

The late introduction of some new cast members didn’t do much for me as I didn’t feel I got time to really know them as events rushed on but as they were mainly supporting cast, it matters little in the end. Upon reflection I liked a lot of this book more than I disliked, when it was strong, it far outweighs the negatives.  It wasn’t quite the amazing book it could have been (or the hype suggested), something a little tighter would have been better but if you fancy a believable portrayal of the life in 70’s Jamaica with its street philosophies and horrors then this is well worth a read.  The author doesn’t compromise with his characters – nobody comes out clean or unscarred – and nor should he have to, this is an unapologietic look at what people will do for power but also just to survive.

Advertisements
 
48 Comments

Posted by on 22/12/2015 in Fiction

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

48 responses to “A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James

  1. leapingtracks

    22/12/2015 at 15:56

    So interesting to read your take on this one. I have been put of this book by various other reviews, and yours confirms that it is not one for me, thanks! That’s fine, because my tottering ‘to read’ pile really can’t take much more 😀 Let me take this opportunity to thank you for all your fabulous posts this year. Have a great Christmas and I look forward to continuing to benefit from your wit and wisdom in 2016. 🎉

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/12/2015 at 16:21

      I think this realistic type of book does seem to split readers who come here, I did find the almost blanket love of this book a little dubious but I do that for any book that gets critically acclaimed but I am always happy to change my mind should be worthy utterly worthy of the hype. I’m happy to provide a service for you by narrowing down the books you could choose to read. I would start a back up to read pile if I were you because it’s an excuse to buy more books hehe.

      Thank you for reading my friend and also for educating me on music as well, I look forward to our next year blogging. Have a wonderful Christmas and many pigs in blankets (I can’t get enough of those).

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • leapingtracks

        22/12/2015 at 16:31

        A second to read pile, plus extra pigs in blankets? What are you trying to do to me….?!? I’ll need to go and have another Quality Street now….. 😀

        Like

         
        • Ste J

          22/12/2015 at 16:32

          If you do complain about the stingy tins these days, it’s criminal!

          Like

           
          • leapingtracks

            22/12/2015 at 16:44

            Yes I know – shocking. About the same level of travesty as the lack of excitement one gets from reading the Xmas Radio Times these days. Is nothing sacred?

            Like

             
            • Ste J

              22/12/2015 at 16:46

              Ah yes, the Radio Times, I circle Doctor Who and shake my head at Home Alone and The Wizard of Oz and then go about my day. Christmas isn’t what it used to be!

              Liked by 1 person

               
  2. readinpleasure

    22/12/2015 at 16:29

    Great review, as usual Ste J. From all indications, it could have been a great suspense read. 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/12/2015 at 16:31

      Why thank you! It had aspects that were suspenseful but they were diluted somewhat, especially after the first few hundred pages but in the end it just wasn’t quite what I hoped it would be.

      Like

       
  3. Jill Weatherholt

    22/12/2015 at 16:30

    Thanks for the honest review, Ste J. I don’t have much patience for repetition of certain phrases either.
    Have a Merry Christmas!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/12/2015 at 16:35

      I remember reading the fourteen book Wheel of Time series which did the same thing, it does tend to grate after a while, it’s okay until you start cussing at work with Jamaican phrases, then you know it’s time to sit and read something like a Famous Five book hehe.

      Have an excellent Christmas yourself my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    22/12/2015 at 17:23

    Enjoyed your review Ste J…though I’ll probably pass on this one. Currently I’m rereading “Lust for LIfe” (originally read it for English Literature back when I was a teenager). And I’ve loaded my Kindle with a “pile” of Science Fiction so I’ve plenty to feast my imagination on for a while. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, looking forward to your 2016 reviews 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/12/2015 at 20:21

      I’d not heard of Lust for Life but I like the subject matter, I must look this up in more detail. I do love a bit of sci-fi on occasion, space is a magisterial backdrop. I hope your Christmas and New Year are blindingly fantastic my friend, there will plenty of blog awesomeness again next year from us both!

      Like

       
  5. renxkyoko

    22/12/2015 at 19:46

    This book sounds epic. I wish I could get back my enthusiasm again. I had a reading overload years ago, I guess. I haven’t even read Seyi Sandra David’s book ( she’s a blogger ) that I bought last year…. not even Hillary Clinton’s that I eagerly pre-ordered. I’m sure if I get to read just one book, it will come back.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      22/12/2015 at 20:30

      I think you should go for it and see if you can get yourself back into reading, there is so much good stuff you’re missing out on and all it takes is that one book to make you feel refreshed and eager to catch up om the literary goodness. Seyi is a good friend of mine and her books are the type that you can sit and just get lost in the pacy prose. For some reason, I can’t be bothered with modern politics books yet am happy to sit and read the old political classics, I lead a strange life.

      Like

       
      • renxkyoko

        22/12/2015 at 20:44

        I know. But Chemistry, Microbiology and all this stuff got in the way, ha ha . Oh, Ren, but how come you have time to read stupid mangas , lol ? Well, they are a diversion. I can finish one chapter in 5 minutes. And the animes ? I love the graphics, lol. I think I lead a more strange life , Ste J.

        Like

         
        • Ste J

          22/12/2015 at 20:48

          I’ll let you off as you have a good reason hehe. I do appreciate the appeal of manga and such although I haven’t found the right one that will snowball my interest as of yet but I have no doubt I will soon. I see we are about to embark on a serious weird life rivalry now haha, things could get very strange!

          Like

           
  6. clarepooley33

    23/12/2015 at 00:53

    Thanks for another great review Ste. I probably won’t be adding this one to my list especially as at the moment my brain can’t take too much stimulation. I have been feeding it on a diet of Bernard Knight, Miss Read and Alexander McCall Smith and it’s only just coping! Maybe after Christmas I’ll be able to add a little spice to the plain diet! I hope you have a very Happy Christmas and a fantastic New Year! I look forward to reading your thoughts on the books of 2016.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      23/12/2015 at 21:06

      The new year will hold much awesomeness for you I am sure! Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year my friend and make sure you put your feet up for a bit!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. Bumba

    23/12/2015 at 01:41

    Fine review again. Looks interesting, even if it isn’t really the book of the century.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      23/12/2015 at 18:29

      The earlier parts of the book are a fine exampe of literature, a curtailing of the latter parts would have certainly impressed me much more. When the library or second hand bookshops get it in, it will be worth taking a gander.

      Like

       
      • Bumba

        23/12/2015 at 23:26

        Especially worthwhile for the geese. Merry Christmas 🐓

        Like

         
        • Ste J

          24/12/2015 at 11:46

          Ha, hope you have a wondeful Christmas sir!

          Like

           
  8. Lucy

    23/12/2015 at 09:24

    I’ve nearly finished this, and while I agree it’s great and everything, it does seem to be slowing down the closer I get to the end. But my main criticism is length, I think it would have been a lot more powerful if it lost a couple of hundred pages. Have a merry Christmas, Ste! 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      23/12/2015 at 18:23

      By the last hundred or so pages, I was just reading it because I had come to far to not see it through but the initial impressiveness had long worn off, great minds think alike and all though. Have a wonderful Christmas and a New Years you can’t remember yet somehow still regret.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Chelsea Brown

    23/12/2015 at 18:48

    The book sounds like it has a lot to offer because there’s so much going on. It also sounds like the author did a pretty good job with the story in general, considering how much there is to keep up revolving around the story and the characters.
    P.S. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas as well my friend, and may 2016 prove to be a fantastic year.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      23/12/2015 at 19:39

      It is an interesting book, very layered and gritty. It must have taken plenty of planning out to get all the threads to pull together.

      I am sure we will both have a fantastic year my friend, if not we should see about getting a refund.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Chelsea Brown

        23/12/2015 at 21:35

        I’ll bet he had to of, when you see books such as these, there’s usually loads of planning and researching. I’ll bet by the end the author had a file cabinet filled with notes. If that’s the case then I should have multiple refunds from the previous years. I don’t feel that that’s going to be the case this year for either one of us.

        Liked by 1 person

         
  10. Sarah

    23/12/2015 at 20:07

    A Jamaican version of The Wire, you say? well that’s put it straight to the top of my TBR pile – boom! Have a great Christmas Ste! 🙂

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      23/12/2015 at 20:36

      I shall have a great Christmas if you do! The Jamaican Wire reference isn’t quite as accurate as it could have been but there are some similarities that made the reading experience richer for it.

      Like

       
  11. Jilanne Hoffmann

    24/12/2015 at 07:04

    I almost bought this book while Christmas shopping today. I enjoyed the first few paragraphs. Thought they were very lyrical (and it reminded me of magical realism), but it sounds like the lyricism (and the magic) may diminish as he gets more into the nitty gritty of realistic life. Glad I put it back down. Cheers!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      24/12/2015 at 11:45

      I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as in your face as it was but it does a good jo at conveying some hard hitting truths about society. Perhaps not a book for this time of year though. I hope I inspire you to pick up more books than you put down next year hehe.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. Liz Dexter

    24/12/2015 at 10:41

    I’ll be passing on this one, too gritty for me. But I really enjoyed your very fair and measured review. Thanks for great posts this year (and for popping over to my blog, too) and happy reading for 2016!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      24/12/2015 at 11:42

      I look forward to getting properly back to catching up again in the coming year an sharing many exciting journeys, bookish or otherwise. Have a wonderful Christmas.

      Like

       
  13. Shakti Ghosal

    27/12/2015 at 13:02

    Reading your review does stoke my curiosity. But some of your comments regarding the vulgarities and childishness of the acts is a put-off for me. So I remain a bit uncertain.

    Shakti

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      27/12/2015 at 15:02

      It is a bit annoying after a while and did detract a little from the overall story but to balance that out, there are some powerful messages in there and they far outweigh the immaturity that a lot of the characters show.

      Like

       
  14. Jeff

    28/12/2015 at 20:36

    Someone at work handed it to me to read the colloquialisms, as you call them. Reminded me of The Book of Dave. Only longer. I have some non-fiction lined up for my gritty realism. Appreciate the balance of your review.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      29/12/2015 at 13:46

      Patois is probably a better term for it, now I think about it. I haven’t read The Book of Dave yet, it is another one that has adorned my shelf for a while, I did hear Will Self read some of it on TV in a cockney accent and even now, when reminded I do read things like he did that day…it gives me shudders not of the good kind.

      Like

       
      • Jeff

        29/12/2015 at 19:15

        I read a few of his short stories and then hit a brick wall with TBOD. It’s my comparison with ABHOSK, but the more usual one is, I’m told, a lot of Irving Welsh’s Glisgyisms. I think you need to clear time and space, have a glass a of water at the ready, and anything that get yer through (such as Irn Bru for example).

        Like

         
  15. shadowoperator

    28/12/2015 at 21:10

    This sounds like an interesting if sometimes frustrating or unfulfilling read, maybe depending on what you are expecting, which again might have to do with what came before. I’ve had “The Book of Night Women” on my list to read for ages, but simply haven’t gotten around to it.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      29/12/2015 at 13:53

      I think that the small number of negative points are far more noticeable as the book is so good in other areas, that is what makes it even more frustrating. I enjoyed the experience of reading the book though and would be interested in picking up some of his ther works as well to see if I prefer them. The hype around this book certainly doesn’t help it in my opinion.

      Like

       
  16. Resa

    01/01/2016 at 22:59

    An interesting time & place, for sure, and it sounds like the book captured that. Bob Marley’s music & all reggae was what rose from that era’s reality, It is still a major part of Jamaica’s allure, as much as any beach.

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      02/01/2016 at 17:07

      It was good to get a context to his music, it gives it a lot more depth after reading this book. Luckily I’ve never really been one for beaches, I love my culture too much.

      Like

       
      • Resa

        02/01/2016 at 20:18

        Beaches… the bathing suits freak me out! 2 0r 3 years ago I went to the Bahamas with a friend. I spent way too, much money purchasing a “one piece” Calvin Klein, with figure disguising ruching all over.
        I was worried about my figure, so I bought it at least 2 sizes too large.
        It hung like a rubber sack, and bounced like one, too.
        Everyone stared at me. My pal was so embarrassed to be with me that I was forbidden to wear it.
        Sigh, I wound up wearing my undies…. which looked like a black bikini. No one stared. LOL!

        Like

         
        • Ste J

          03/01/2016 at 14:28

          Now that’s a story to start the new year with! I am always spun out with how women are fine wearing bikinis for the whole world to see yet shocked about one person seeing them in their underwear. I gave up trying to understand the fairer sex years ago but for making me smile, I award you an invisible crown for comedy, it shall arrive in an invisible envelope for you soon, when I find both of them that is…

          Like

           
  17. RoSy

    24/01/2016 at 17:53

    Something I’d definitely enjoy reading. And – short bits would work out perfectly for my “free” time.
    My favorite channel on tv is ID tv (Investigation Discovery). I find the investigation & discovery aspects quite fascinating!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      26/01/2016 at 15:21

      ‘Free’ is certainly not as accurate as the word would have one believe. I do like watching those types of TV shows as well, again in my free time. I think we are due a holiday, you pick the place and I’ll book!

      Liked by 1 person

       

Tell me stuff...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: