I am finally going to admit this: I’m not going to finish this book, and I intend to stop torturing myself by trying. I have a now entered my third cycle with struggling through Marlon James’s Booker Award-winning masterpiece, A Brief History of Seven Killings. Unfortunately the book is not brief enough.
A Brief History of Seven Killings is set in Jamaica in the 1970s around the time of Bob Marley’s non-fatal shooting. It’s the Flamethrowers of 2015, a long, ambitious, highly political period-piece, rendered in excellent prose. It has a great location (Jamaica!) and offers a fascinating and real-seeming inner look at island politics. As something I should be curious about, it’s perfect. Unlike Flamethrowers, which was one girl’s story, James’s book is told in multiple voices, white and black (mostly black), including a series of interrelated thugs, a CIA agent, Nina Burgess who is a one-night-stand of Marley’s, Alex Pierce a scrappy journalist who hopes to interview him, and others.
The writing is truly very good. James has a kind of heat and virtuosity that lights up a scene, drills in, twists around, brings everything out in flash-bulb detail. I found myself loving some pages and some scenes enough to keep slogging. Some character arcs were interesting to me. But then, as soon as I’d settled in to being engaged, the POV would change, I’d be introduced to a new character, or brought back to one whose back-story I’d forgotten. The problem with this kind of thing is that once the book starts losing you, then you slow down too much and it loses you more. I gave up and went back three separate times and by the last had to be honest with myself that Nina Burgess was the only character I still remembered and related to. Also, the thug-voices were in dialect, and some of their sections were very violent and disturbing. And then there were big jumps in time.
I want this book to be for me but when I look at how much I have to go, and how small the type is, I just can’t do it.
I would also like to point out that this is the first time in the five years I’ve been keeping track of my reading on this blog that I’ve been unable to finish something I basically like and think is worthy of finishing. An Anthology of Clouds has been defeated by Marlon James.