Book Review: A Brief History of Seven Killings

Thursday 10 September 2015 by

A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James, Book, Reading, OneworldA Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Published by Oneworld

Jamaica, 1976

Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught.

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a dazzling display of masterful storytelling exploring this near-mythic event. Spanning three decades and crossing continents, A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.


It’s taken me a little while to get to this review. A Brief History of Seven Killings has left me breathless and unnerved – the aftermath of reading an uncomfortable story. If I thought The Fishermen was tough reading, it’s got nothing on this story of the ghettos of Jamaica.

Centring around the events of December 1976, and rippling out for decades, we join a host of characters in the slums and ghettos of Jamaica – each connected to the Singer. The Singer – the man who is a worldwide star, and yet is bringing about change to the local streets.

Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character – with their own accent, lilting colloquialisms, and their own views. It’s hard to follow – make friends with the list of the cast at the front – and the patois is often bewildering.

These are blood-soaked pages. Unsympathetic, brutal and unrelenting, this is no easy read. But there is something breathtaking about it all. I have never read any James before, but his voice is an overpowering one. It is beautiful in its tragedy.

I know next to nothing about Bob Marley, or Jamaica, or even the 1970s. But the whole story entranced me. The characters are wilful, passionate, and yet also so full of violence that you wish you could dislike them. Yet, there is magic within it – making you love them, to enjoy their company. You finish the book, however, exhausted. This is not easy reading, not happy reading, and nor is it brief. It will drag out the torture as long as you can stand before releasing you.

Intense, immense, and extraordinary, this is an epic novel. A winner? Perhaps it’s too violent for that. But one that will stick with me for years? Absolutely.

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