Recent leisure reading: Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings I finally got around to reading this and am almost over. It is a hard book to read. Multiple narration, Jamaican patois (with a lot of vocabulary that has to be inferred from context), lots of swearing, raw sex, and violence, and an assumed familiarity with Jamaican history.  I grew up listening to reggae (The Harder They Come was one of the first albums I owned, and Bob Marley was very big at Georgetown, naturally, in 1979 and after, and one could reasonably expect to encounter people who had opinions about Peter Tosh vs. Marley).  But still a surprising thing for me about the novel is how much I hear a set of voices in the dialogue.  In particular, whenever I am reading the Papa-Lo segments, the sound is always the singing voice of the older Lee “Scratch” Perry.  I have no idea how that happened.  The other voices don’t have counterparts with identifiable figures, but I hear them.  Not many novels produce that effect.  Now, the novel itself is sprawling and complex. Reminds me a lot of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road.  I do not always like experimental fiction (every now and then we get fast forwards, dreams, disorienting first person narration, unattributed dialogue), but James is certainly pulling it off.  I would recommend, but it is not an easy read and take a hundred pages to settle into the rhythm and overlook some of the more grating voices.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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