My book club picked A Brief History of 7 Killings as our most recent featured book mostly because it won the Man Booker Prize for 2015 and it appeared to be about Bob Marley. Initially we almost immediately regretted it and I think I am one of only two of the six of us that actually finished it. I realise that this makes it sound like this is going to be a negative review. It’s not. It is going to be a challenging one though since Marlon James’ latest novel is a very challenging book.
Spread out across five time periods and multiple unreliable narrators A Brief History of 7 Killings tells the story of Jamaica’s turbulent political history from 1976 – 1991 with Bob Marley’s attempted assassination at the centre of it. With several gangs, the CIA, a confused and damaged groupie and the Singer himself involved it’s a complex and often brutal tapestry that explores themes of gender, sexuality, drug abuse, privilege, race, superstition and violence at a breathtaking and confusing pace. As if this were not complex enough many of the voices who tell the tale cannot be trusted to give a true account nor can the reader always be sure if what they are describing is real or imagined… oh and some of it is written in pidgin English as well.
There were many times in the first third or so of the book where I considered just putting it down and never picking it up again and I will admit to reading pages and pages where I had no idea what was going on. That said though the deeper I got in the more compelled I was to continue, to find out more and to see just where Marlon James was leading me. Essentially I think the confusion, muddled storytelling and lack of a clear resolution mirrors the complexity of Jamaica’s past and having come from a country with a similarly mixed up history and an often equally bleak future outlook for some of its residents there was a lot to identify with.
If you are looking for a complex and challenging but ultimately rewarding read I can highly recommend A Brief History of 7 Killings but I will say that you’ll need stamina, concentration and dedication to get through it. 4/5