Marlon James: A Brief History Of Seven Killings




WINNER OF THE 2015 MAN BOOKER PRIZE FOR FICTION From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.


A Brief History of Seven Killings begins in December 1976, and centres around the gang culture in Jamaica. One gang breaks into Bob Marley’s house and shoots him. Although the identity of the perpetrator is made clear to the reader, they are not caught by the police. As the novel progresses, James describes the attempt to discover the identity of the gunman, and the attempts of the gang to maintain their power in Kingston.

The novel is told from the perspective of several different characters, each of whom are listed at the beginning of the book. I felt at first as though this might be slightly pretentious, but as I continued reading, I began to appreciate the sheer volume of characters involved! In some ways, this is the novel’s greatest strength, as it gives the reader insight into the thoughts and lifestyles of characters from a wide range of backgrounds. I particularly enjoyed the stories of Sir Arthur George Jennings, a deceased politician, whose chapters describe how it feels to be dead, and Dorcas Palmer, who regular adopts the identity of other women.

However, in its greatest strength also lies its greatest weakness. The multitude of characters means that some parts of the novel are hard to follow, particularly those chapters told from the perspectives of characters who use non-standard English and Jamaican colloquialisms. This, coupled with the fact that the shooting, which is the catalyst for the whole novel, does not happen until the end of the second section, made me feel as though the novel dragged slightly in places.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a very ambitious work, and I’ve never read anything quite like it before. In places, it lives up to its ambition, and is written beautifully. However, it struggles to maintain its promise to the very end.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is available from Amazon.



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