A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James — New Review

Cover: bookshop.org

At some point, I must have read a review of A Brief History of Seven Killings which intrigued me enough to buy the book, but I no longer remember it. A brief look online didn’t provide much in the way of clues as to why I thought this would be enjoyable. The historical context of an assassination attempt on Bob Marley was completely unfamiliar, and the phrase ‘crack wars in New York City’ not exactly promising for an entertaining read.

When a father turn away from him son, he can’t act shock when the son don’t know him no more.

A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

Marlon James’ style feels intentional; each character has a different voice, using ‘the Singer’ instead of Bob Marley’s name elevates him to a mythic figure and the stream-of-consciousness changes to reflect the emotional and mental states of his characters. Unfortunately, going in with no prior knowledge of events combined with vast array of narrators and the overload of detail made it difficult to pick out which people and events would prove to be important. The narrative is hard work for an uninformed reader, especially the middle section where the chapters are long enough to feel exhausting.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is also, as is to be expected, incredibly violent. As well as the advertised assassination and drug wars, there’s a lot of background violence, both sexual and otherwise, which certainly didn’t lighten the emotional load any. The Gallows Pole was similarly violent, but A Brief History of Seven Killings had none of that poetic prose to ease the relentlessly miserable experience almost all of the characters were having.

He’ll talk about it all the time but sideways like an Aesop fable, or a riddle and rhyme. He can shape and mold it and make it Greek, his word, not mine. I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about with that Greek shit. But that don’t mean he want anybody to say it back to him. Something happen when somebody tell you something about yourself even if you already know.

A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

What Marlon James did well was ratchet up the tension, especially just prior to the assassination attempt, but also before other explosive events. Even with no knowledge of what was coming, it was obvious that something was about to go down, which was emotionally engaging.

A reader who picked up A Brief History of Seven Killings because the blurb or real-life history sounded intriguing would probably enjoy it, this book just wasn’t for me, and I blame that more on whatever I read that interested me in it more than I blame it on the book itself.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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