In this debut by the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, a Jamaican village in 1957 is the scene of a dramatic clash between good and evil when two preachers vie for control over the villagers' souls.
This is an astounding book—in verbal pyrotechnics ... The novel is carried forward on torrents of dialect. At times comical, at others nonsensical, the local patter is a revelation of character ... this first novel is provocative and shocking, full of imaginative vim and stylistic vigor. While not without flaws, among them forsaking a hero worthy of redemption, John Crow’s Devil deserves to be read by anyone interested in powerful storytelling at its best.
Marlon James's powerful first novel is more than a theological contest pitting a ferocious god against a passive one ... communal fears, set against...two preachers' spiritual crises, turn John Crow's Devil into a psychological novel with a difference—an exploration of internal neuroses that have increasingly surreal external manifestations ... Writing with assurance and control, James uses his small-town drama to suggest the larger anguish of a postcolonial society struggling for its own identity. But he mixes this with an evocation of a cultlike religious fervor that recalls the People's Temple and the Jonestown massacre of the 1970's.
The opening scene is filmic in its lean, vivid description ... in John Crow's Devil, every act of violence appears mythic, not-quite-real in a not-quite-real town, so it loses the sting of The Book of Night Women, where the violence relates to the realities of the slave trade, or James's A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), where the violence relates to 1970s gangland Jamaica. In these two subsequent books, violence serves to horrify and shock. Here it occupies a different space, where it is spectacle, both for the villagers, and for readers. Its filmic quality is so strong that images rise off the page ... John Crow's Devil is undoubtedly breathtaking for its imagination and its storytelling ... One of the strongest ideas of this novel comes in its blurring of good and evil. The two are never quite distinct[.]