A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

In which I read a book simply because it has won the 2015 Man Booker prize, and am somewhat disappointed.

I read just about everything on the 2015 Man Booker short list because I wanted to. This was one of the ones I didn’t read, and now I’m regretting a bit that it won, because I won’t ever get that week of my life back.

Don’t misunderstand me, this book was literary to the Nth degree. It used Jamaican patois throughout (where appropriate), and figuring out what words meant from context was an enjoyable exercise for me. It spoke of important things, too – Jamaica and its culture, its politics, its relationship with the First World, and many others. So I can’t say that it was the topic that annoyed me, because it didn’t. This is usually the sort of thing I eat right up and ask for seconds.

In the end, though, I was left feeling unsatisfied. The seven killings were never very clear to me because people were biting the dust right and left and the number came to far more than seven. I appreciate thinking outside the box (*shudders* horrid term), and writing about a topic coming in from a different angle. So, truly, I should have loved this book. I didn’t, though, and it’s been making me a little crazy trying to figure out why.

I think maybe it was a couple of things. First, it was just too long. Period.

Second, I understand making a point and bringing in the local color, and staying true to the story, but there were so many characters, each writing in their own dialect (whatever that dialect might be), and not a lot of clues to help the reader keep track of what was going on. If I had read a book on Jamaican politics BEFORE picking up this book, I think I would have been in love. However, I was missing that foundation and so I had trouble latching onto the things that mattered and following the story as a whole. This could be my failure, or the book’s failure, or perhaps a joint effort in failing. I don’t know.

It’s not a bad book, just one I’d strongly suggest you read AFTER beefing up on Jamaican politics and Bob Marley and the drug trade.

You can read Doreen’s review from last month here.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2015/12/27/a-brief-history-of-seven-killings-by-marlon-james-2/


  1. “In which I read a book simply because it has won the 2015 Man Booker prize, and am somewhat disappointed.”


    Pretty much my review, as well.

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