In a dazzling display of masterful storytelling, Marlon James explores the extraordinary backstory to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley.
Jamaica, 1976. Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught. Marlon James investigates the story behind this near-mythical event. The result is a mesmerising, continent-crossing tale that spans three decades, with a shadowy cast of street kids, drug lords, journalists, prostitutes, gunmen and secret service agents.
In December 1976, less than two weeks before a general election was to be held in Jamaica and just two days before Bob Marley was to play at a concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, the country’s capital, several gunmen stormed the singer’s house.
The attackers, armed with machine guns, wounded Marley, his wife and his manager, as well as several others. It is that shooting – and the lead up and aftermath of it for a cast of fictional characters – that James explores in A Brief History of Seven Killings.
Despite his enduring popularity, the attempted assassination of Marley is often overlooked, and James’ book is responsible for bringing knowledge of the event to a new audience.
For those who want to know more about the real events that James’ book is based on, reggae historian and archivist Roger Steffens’ book So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley offers an insight into the events of December 3, 1976. Read an extract from the book at Rolling Stone.
What has it been like to be longlisted?
Fantastic and surreal. My literary sensibilities have been shaped by Booker winners, shortlisters and longlisters from I was a kid studying literature on high school.
What are you working on next?
Something set in the 11th century.
What are you reading at the moment?
Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories.
What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?
The Line Of Beauty.
A Brief History of Seven Killings contains some 75 characters. What was your reasoning behind using such a crowd?
That’s just it, reason had to go out the window! I had to get the point where my inner critic stopped questioning my moves, because often I was moving without a second thought or even a first one. It was the riskiest thing I had ever done and reasoning had nothing to do with it.
The fiction writer in me likes gaps in stories because I can jump into that gap and try to suggest something.
On accepting the award, James paid tribute to the whole shortlist:
‘There are so many ways to tell, let’s call it, the English language novel. It’s so humbling and so wonderful that you fell in love with six wonderful, experimental, outrageous, dark, beautiful novels that I think, what we’re really just trying to do is make sense of the world we’re in. And I don’t think we’re ever going to find the answers but I also think as novelists we’re just here to ask better questions. So I will continue to do that.’
James’ book was chosen by the judging panel of Professor Michael Wood, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne.
Watch the moment James was announced as the winner below.
This book is startling in its range of voices and registers... It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times— Michael Wood, chair of judges, Man Booker Prize 2015