Winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize
Spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, drug dealers, journalists, and even ghosts—James brings to life the people who walked the streets of 1970s Kingston, who dominated the crack houses of 1980s New York, and who reemerged into a radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s.
[A Brief History of Seven Killings is] epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It’s also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting — a testament to Mr. James’s vaulting ambition and prodigious talent … [Bob] Marley...becomes an almost peripheral figure in this novel, as the story focuses in on fictional versions of ‘the people around him, the ones who come and go’ … Mr. James’s characters, old and young, male and female, Jamaican and American, exhale their thoughts in language that is casually profane, and as kinetic and syncopated as music. Many of this novel’s chapters are written in a kind of patois stream of consciousness, which, however confusing at first, works to immerse the reader in the world in which Marley grew up, the world that gave birth to reggae.
Marlon James’s epic and dizzying third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is anything but brief and describes far more than seven killings … Based on actual events, [it] delineates strategies of war in a world of men—gang lords, hit men, politicians, and CIA agents, to name just a few … James is not the first to suggest that Marley, who had attained prophet status and seemed to support Manley’s increasingly socialist vision, became a target of CIA-backed JLP leaders...but to the best of my knowledge, Marlon James is the first to go at this historical moment through fiction. This allows him to get inside the heads of brutal people, to fill in the gaps left by historical research, and to find the humanity (and even humor) in the grimmest of situations … If the purpose of reportage is to tell us what happened, and the purpose of fiction is to show us how it felt, then James has succeeded on both counts.
If A Brief History of Seven Killings can be said to have a main idea, it’s that nobody escapes, at least not entirely, from violence. Because violence isn’t an event, but a kind of potential—a force, like gravity, that lurks in every curve of space … It has less in common with most recent literary fiction than it does with Breaking Bad and The Wire...Seven Killings is surprising, suspenseful, and, when it stirs from its sinister languor, fast, with action sequences as finger-curling and eyelid-lifting as anything onscreen. But as much as it resembles the best of today’s television, the novel conveys violence with an interior nuance perhaps only achievable in prose. Its intensity comes less from the story’s underworld glamour than it does from James’s style and syntax—a language that gives texture to danger and its psychic terrain … Some will be frustrated by its lack of ‘larger comment,’ the usual hall pass for dangerous art. Others will find it too painful. People who think good writing should always be graceful won’t like it at all.