No wonder Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, looks fed up in his author photo. Perhaps the first thing I should tell you about this novel is how very misleading the title is. There is nothing brief about this history, a novel of over 700 pages in maybe 7pt type, and there are many many more than seven killings. Marlon James' account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the 1970s and the cold war politics of the 1980s is a complex and ambitious interleaving of multiple narratives - indeed the cast of 76 characters extends over two pages.What is most remarkable is that there is hardly any plot to this assassination story, only the briefest character development (most notably Nina Burgess - whose story was the one I cared the most about) and barely any description. What there is, there is in abundance and that is Voice: this is a book that is all about the voice.
Its flaw is that hardly any of the voices are sufficiently differentiated - I could not tell at a 'blind' open-the-page-at-random testing whether I was in Papa-Lo's story, Alex Pierce's, Bam-bam's or Josey Wales's. Everyone speaks with the same disaffected, edgy, interior voice. Their narratives are unrelentingly grim: brutal, ruthless, profane and angry. The rhythms of the book are insistent and rough, the relationships bitter, self-defeating.
I am a reader who likes books that challenge me, I like to read a book that leaves me feeling the world is larger and more imagined than I had believed possible. I am also a reader familiar with the post-modern, post-colonial steer to represent the world in all its conflicting, contradictory, sometimes harsh sometimes magical variety. I understand that a novel might be more than simply about the pleasures of the text, that it might be about life, about story itself. So I would have perhaps considered myself prime audience for a novel like this. But there was precious little pleasure in reading this novel, scant story for a novel so ostensibly taken with the themes of uprising, survival, redemption songs and ganga guns. It's big and baggy and it sags so low in the middle you think you are going to be permanently scarred by the ride.
It left me feeling exhausted, dejected and deeply unsatisfied in my soul. Now, let me go and listen to a bit of Bob and lively up myself before I can embark upon the next novel on this Booker Longlist
The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele