Skip to content

2015 Man Booker Shortlist: A Brief History of Seven Killings Marlon James


The Man Booker Prize will be announced next tuesday. Monday we will make our final prediction for winner. Before we do so, we wanted to post a final review for one of the books that has been shortlisted. Find out what Book Worm thought about James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Published: September 2015
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: 4 stars
Find it/buy it here: A Brief History of Seven Killings

The first thing to say about this book is the title is a lie. There are way more than 7 killings and at 700 odd pages this is not a brief history. The central theme of the novel is supposed to be the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the failure of peace in Jamaica, yet the singer is never really present.  He remains in the background as an almost mythical figure and as a back drop to events experienced by the books other characters.

This is a complicated book as there are so many individual narrators and characters. It got to the point where I was having to make notes to keep people in order — something not helped by the fact the narrative was not always linear.

In terms of originality this didn’t get full marks from me because it is a story about gangs and politics and an embellished version of real events. Many of the narrative techniques have been used before.  I still scored it relatively high due to the use of so many individual narrators (each with a slightly different viewpoint) and the way that the narrative was drawn together at the end of the book.

For me there were 3 main characters and they were complex, with varying motives for everything they did. The minor characters were also well drawn and added to the story.

Writing Quality is a difficult one as a lot of the book is written in Jamaican slang, which some readers may find off putting.  Apart from this, there was not really anything that distinguished this from a well written gang thriller. That said, it is a solidly written story.

I would just add that this is not a book for the faint hearted because from the outset there are detailed descriptions of violence, torture, murder and rape and these descriptions continue throughout the whole narrative.

Overall, I do agree with the judges decision to shortlist this. Here’s the way I rating the book (according to our previously developed long list scoring criteria.

Available in English 1 / 1
Published in the UK 1 / 1
Originality 6 / 8
Character Complexity 5 / 5
Writing Quality 4 / 5
Total 17

Want to try it for yourself? In our opinion it’s one of the better shortlisted books. You can buy a copy here: A Brief History of Seven Killings

Have you read this book? What did you think? Should it have made the shortlist? Do you think it will (or should) win the prize?

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think it’s a strong contender to win. Even though it didn’t blow me away emotionally the way that A Little Life did, I think the quality of the writing and complexity of how the storyline was weaved is the most impressive out of all of the shortlist nominees. I also feel like it’s one of those books that can be re-read a number of times and the reader would get something new out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 6, 2015
  2. I’ve got this on my to read pile. I’m waiting for the right time/frame of mind to get stuck in.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 6, 2015
  3. I really enjoyed this book and had the good fortune to hear Marlon James speak at the National Book Fest in D. C. last month. He claims that this started out as a novella about the gay Chicago hit man who can’t complete the contract because he is too obsessed with whether or not he has missed a call from his lover. He said the first sentence he wrote ended up somewhere around page 400 in the finished product. He listed Virginia Woolf as one of his influences and read a passage that did indeed remind me quite a bit of Mrs. Dalloway.

    The Q & A session was entertaining as well. When asked if the Rolling Stone journalist was in any way autobiographical James laughingly objected that it couldn’t be because he made such a point of showing that the fictional journalist was such an awful writer. Several audience members raved about one of his earlier novels the Book of Night Women so I have that sitting on my end table now waiting to be read.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 6, 2015
  4. I really want to read this one!


    October 7, 2015
  5. I’ve just started reading this! It’s so dense but i can tell it’s gonna be a good book, i just hope I have the stamina to finish it. How long did it take you to finish?


    October 7, 2015
    • Book Worm #

      Sorry for delay in replying lots going on here. I would estimate it took me about 2 weeks to read. Keep with it it is worth it.


      October 9, 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings Wins the 2015 Man Booker Prize! | The Reader's Room
  2. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James | The Reader's Room

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: