On December 3, 1976, just weeks before the general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play at the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions, seven men from West Kingston stormed his house with machine guns. Marley survived and went on to perform at the free concert. But the next day, he left the country and didn’t return for two years. That was a quote from the novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings; the book that won this year’s Man Booker Prize by the Jamaican author, Marlon James. The prize was first awarded in 1969. The Man Booker Prize is recognized as the leading award for high quality literary fiction written in English. Its list of winners features many of the giants of the last four decades: from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch and JM Coetzee.
Marlon James’ name was announced by Michael Wood at a black-tie dinner at London’s Guildhall, where James was presented with a trophy from HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall and a £50,000 cheque from Emmanuel Roman, Chief Executive of Man Group. Guests at the event, which was broadcast live on the BBC News Channel, included the shortlisted authors, well-known figures from the literary world and VIPs, among them the Duchess of Cornwall and Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale.
The nominees for the 2015 Man Booker Prize were A little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, Satin Island by Tom McCarthy, The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota and A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.
The novel was Inspired by this near-mythic event. A Brief History of Seven Killings takes the form of an imagined oral biography told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, con men, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, reporters, journalists, and even Keith Richards’ drug dealer. The story traverses strange landscapes and shady characters, as motivations are examined and questions asked. Referring to Bob Marley only as ‘The Singer’ throughout, A Brief History of Seven Killings retells the assassination attempt through the myriad voices – to create a rich, polyphonic study of violence, politics and the musical legacy of Kingston of the 1970s. James has credited Charles Dickens as one of his formative influences, saying ‘I still consider myself a Dickensian in as much as there are aspects of storytelling I still believe in – plot, surprise, cliffhangers’.