My first Man Booker long-listed contender for 2015 was Marlon James and his "A Brief History of Seven Killings". The blurb described it as the story of the attemped assisination of Bob Marley in 1976, but that is just the event around which a much bigger story is told.
That much bigger story is that of Jamaica in the 70s and 80s. As one of the characters say, actually its about Kingston, because that where all the players are. Later we have the story of Montego Bay and mainland USA, but it starts with Kingston, with The Singer, with Michael Manley, with politcs, with ghettos, with their individual power structures and their political allegiances. Add in the outside powers all seeking to have control - the CIA, the Cubans and the Columbians - and you have a shed load of egos and a veritable tinderbox.
Its a chunky book at 704 pages and I'm afraid I found it a genuine struggle to get into. The constant switching between multiple voices made it especially difficult to become engaged with any of the characters. Far too many chapters were written in a stream of consciousness style which I found ineffective and repetitive. A number of the voices appeared to be totally superfluous to the tale, yet others appeared to overlap without adding to the story in any evident manner. The best written voices were female and yet they were always on the periphery.
I did struggle somewhat with the casual violence, drug use and misogyny, but the biggest issue was that it took too long to get anywhere. Despite loving "War and Peace", I was over a quarter of the way through before I had the vaguest idea who anyone was and over half way through before I had the least idea what was going on. The final quarter had momentum in that it was building up to the final - seventh - killing. But the ending was decidedly anti-climactic.
I read in the acknowledgements the author knew he didn't have a single voice from which to tell the story, but was persuaded it could be told by multiple voices. Whilst I can see how this would have been viewed as an unusual story-telling concept and one that could add value; it simply didn't work for me, rather It added to the rambling nature of the narrative.
I believe there's a fascinating story to be told here and am sad that - for me - it ended up being such a near miss.
I've since read many 4 and 5 star reviews. Please do share your views on here, or link to your reviews - I'd be really interested to hear them.
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