A Brief History of Seven Killings

by Marlon James

This is not an easy read, but it is well worth the trouble of attempting it. I am about half way through the third part, and I agree with other reviewers that the pace slows a bit in the middle sections. The language and the style of putting the story across are mesmerising. It is like going for a walk in the tropics when you have spent all your life in a temperate climate: you don’t know what you will encounter, but you revel in all the new sights, sounds and smells.

James’ introduction of his characters and their back stories gets the reader onside, and with some sympathy towards characters whose actions are corrupt and violent. The settings are real, and well enough researched to make you confident that he is describing something realistic. An important consideration, given the at times extreme violence depicted here. The Jamaican patois used by many of the characters helps to make the settings and their actions seem more real. It also serves to distinguish the voices in which the different chapters are told, with some Jamaican characters using more educated language, and the non-Jamaicans not speaking in patois at all. I have looked up the occasional word, and I certainly don’t feel, as other reviewers have remarked, that the book loses anything by not including a glossary. An educated guess based on the context is usually enough to make out the sense of a word – and you can always resort to Google and the various online patois dictionaries.

Make the effort to read this book – you will be rewarded.

The Stories

by Jane Gardam

I couldn’t resist downloading these short stories, after finishing the second book in the ‘Old Filth’ series.  Garden’s prose is beautifully crafted, and her characters are closely observed and poignant.

So far I have read about half of the stories.  I don’t want them to end too soon, so I am taking a break!

The Introduction itself contains a powerful story – that of how Gardam came to be a writer in the first place.  It is a wonderful little anecdote, which shows that her career was launched through a combination of chance encounters and sheer pluck. And her summing up at the end of the introduction shows us just how much she loves her craft, and why we love her for it:

“The luck in the writer’s life always is to have been ale to use the sweets of fiction to get near the truth.”

Bag of Bones

by Stephen King

I picked this up on holiday and, as is usually the case with King’s books, couldn’t stop reading it. His writing is so good that I will happily read anything of his. That said, I was quite relieved to read other reviews that suggested this is not as gory as some of his other books (though it does have its moments!).

This is a ghost story, on one level, and a story of compassion and courage on another. It is only towards the end that the reader learns of the violent act that sets the ghostly goings-on – and the desperate actions of the guilty – in motion. It is also a story that explores with sensitivity the variety of effects of grief, and in this sense it bears some similarity with Lisey’s Story, written eight years later. The extraordinary power of love within a marriage is given voice here, as it is in the later story.