A Brief History of Seven Killings

Pensive Quill stalwart Sean Mallory with a stab at a book review, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2015 for fiction.

I’m not entirely sure if this is a worthy winner of the 2015 Booker prise for fiction or not, as I have no idea who the other entrants were and thus not read their submissions. A Christmas present to me.

Nevertheless it was awarded that prise and after reading it I fully understand why. What I am sure about is that it ensnares the reader from the beginning through inquisitiveness and keeps them enthralled to the very last.

It’s not one of those books that grips you to the point where you can’t put it down. It does grip you from the start but you find yourself needing to put it down to try and fully understand what is being said and absorb what exactly is going on. Throughout the book you will find yourself taking deliberate breaks to deliberate.

The book’s narrative revolves around the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976: the fallout before and the repercussions after that attack, on Jamaica, it’s slums, it’s government, it’s law enforcement agencies including its armed forces, the Columbian drug cartels, Cuba, the impact on American society of the sudden explosion of crack cocaine all along its eastern seaboard, the ubiquitous CIA and their eternal crusade against all things communist and of course the Jamaican gangs.

Gangs, whose leaders and affiliates have Hollywood sounding names. There are quite a few characters as the story roams throughout the Caribbean, South America and the USA. To aid the reader James provides a listing of the characters and their affiliations at the beginning for reference purposes. A listing that greatly assists the reader in understanding just who is who.

Written in what only can be described as a crude Jamaican pigeon English, it will take the individual reader an indefinable period of time to pick up on an understanding of the language and slang of the Jamaican ghettos and the language of the gangs who run them.

Ghettos, where law and order has abandoned the unfortunate inhabitants to the whims of the individual gang leaders and their enforcers. Morals and ethics are just words too difficult to spell in these cauldrons of wanton, mindless violence where life is not cheap but where it simply has no value at all. Bodies turn up regularly only to explain business deals gone wrong or as resolutions to territorial disputes. Violence begets violence until it becomes prosaic and banal. Political affiliations ensure that this Jamaican caste system continues. Exporting this to a western society which prides itself on law and order is a mistake and soon the American authorities are taking notice.

It continually questions white perceptions of Jamaica and often with ridicule. Marley became the international face of Jamaica but in fact he only represented a faction of it. The book is so cleverly written and composed in such a manner that at the end the reader comes away thinking, just who was Bob Marley and just how much of this book is actually fiction?

  • Marlon James, 2014, A Brief History of Seven Killings. Publisher: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1594486005

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

2 comments to ''A Brief History of Seven Killings"

  1. Have it on Kindle and this review makes me want to read it but I am not sure I would have the patience to deal with the lingo. One reason I never read Clockwork Orange.

  2. Sean Mallory Says:


    You're right about the lingo. It's quite difficult and frustrating to understand at the beginning and I read on because I thought that it would revert to plain English at some stage but it carries that pigeon tongue throughout the book. That's why the stops and starts but once you overcome that it is a great read nonetheless.....


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