A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

This book is loosely based on the life of Bob Marley and an attempted assasination on his life in 1976, it also delves into the political issues facing Jamaica in the 70’s and 80’s. The book is largely set in Kingston and details the gang violence that was ever present in those days, between the gangs associated with the Jamaican Labour Party and the People’s National Party. It was awarded the 2015 Man Booker prize.

I found parts of the book interesting, especially as I had little knowledge of Jamaica in that era and of the daily and seemingly ordinary violence that had a tight hold on the nation. I also was not aware of the attempted assasination on Bob Marley (always known in the book simly as “the Singer”). It tells the story of Jamaica, of the Jamaican people and their struggles, and this story leads us outside of Jamaica at times. The book also tells us about other outside forces that were having an impact on Jamaica at that time, the C.I.A. anti-Castro Cubans and Colombian drug cartels were all in Jamaica, and making an impact. The biggest issue I had with the book was the style in which it was written. It was written using Jamaican Patois; using Jamaican slang words that, unless you’re Jamaican or have spent  a lot of time there, then the meaning can often be lost. It was very difficult to get past the patois and into the actual story as I was forever second guessing what different words actually meant. This made the book a very stop-start kind of read for me as opposed to a nice fluid motion. I could never fully immerse myself in the book and just enjoy the story because of the style of writing. Not only was the Jamaican patois distracting for me, but often throughout the book, there was little to no punctuation used. The lack of punctuation made the story less enjoyable for me, and again prevented me from being swept up and engaged in the story.

The narrative also jumped around quite a lot between a large number of characters and the timelines between these switching of character was never very clear. In my opinion, this casued to book to be somewhat muddled and confusing, I often had to skim back through the book to remind myself who a certain chartacter was. If you are going to read this book, be mindful that it is filed with violence and agression, which are very vividly described. I didn’t mind the violent scenes at all but if you are squemish or easily offended by violence, perhaps give this one a miss.

Overall, I would rate the book with 2 stars out of 5. Again, this is mostly down to the style of writing, it just wasn’t for me, it didn’t draw me in and as a result I didn’t form any connections with any of the chartacters. I found as I was reading it that I didn’t really care what happened to the characters; if they lived or died, I was indifferent. For these reasons I found the book hard to read; it often felt more of a chore than a treat to read it. However, in saying that, it’s an interesting and eye-opening book, and many are raving about it. Even within our own book club, many others really enjoyed it so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. Buy it on Amazon here:
A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel