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.