The Man Booker Prize

2015 - Marlon James

Born: 24 November 1970, Jamaica

Author's quote: “The dream didn’t leave, people just don’t know a nightmare when they right in the middle of one.”

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Marlon James

About Marlon James

Marlon James (born 24 November 1970) is a Jamaican writer. He has published three novels: John Crow's Devil (2005), The Book of Night Women (2009), and A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to parents who were both in the Jamaican police: his mother (who gave him his first prose book, a collection of stories by O. Henry) became a detective and his father (from whom James took a love of Shakespeare and Coleridge) a lawyer. James is a 1991 graduate of the University of the West Indies, where he read Language and Literature. He left Jamaica because he was scared of homophobic violence. He received a master's degree in creative writing from Wilkes University (2006).

James has taught English and creative writing at Macalester College since 2007.  His first novel, John Crow's Devil – which was rejected 70 times before being accepted for publication – tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957. His second novel, The Book of Night Women, is about a slave woman's revolt in a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century. His most recent novel, 2014's A Brief History of Seven Killings, explores several decades of Jamaican history and political instability through the perspectives of many narrators. It won the fiction category of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, having been the first book by a Jamaican author ever to be shortlisted. He is the second Caribbean winner of the prize, following Trinidad-born V. S. Naipaul who won in 1971. James has indicated his next work will be a fantasy novel, titled Black Leopard, Red Wolf. It will be the first in a series.



A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James

By Mike W.

This was probably the most challenging novel I've read in several years. Who am I kidding? There's no probably about it. Marlon James has constructed an incredibly complex story, and it took every bit of memory available to me to keep up. He was kind enough to include a cast of characters, but I made it a point to refer to it as little as possible, opting instead to try and follow the story under my own power.

Add to the story's complexity the fact that most of the characters are from the ghettos of Kingston, and speak in a patois that takes some serious acclimation initially, and will slow your reading speed to a crawl at times. Amazingly though, after spending nearly a week with these characters, I felt like I had picked up the meanings quite well and could read those sections much quicker. Strangely, for me, this adaptation was the most rewarding aspect of this particular reading experience. In fact, as much respect as I now have for Marlon James' talent, I have to admit that I did not actually enjoy this novel, and found it made for an almost constantly uncomfortable reading experience.

The last time I felt the inability to enjoy such a well written book, I was reading In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a Pulitzer finalist. Both books require the reader to spend most of their time in very difficult places. By difficult I mean places where innocents suffer a great deal of agony and injustice, and both books left me feeling a certain hopelessness from which I felt the reader was never released. That may well be James' intention, and the fact that he could take me to such places and make them feel so real as to make me uncomfortable is a testament to his talents.

This novel contains a great deal of incredibly graphic violence (including rape), and in fact I cannot name a more graphically violent novel that I've read in the past few years. Perhaps Philip Meyers' "The Son" comes close? There is also a lot of quite graphic sex, and since the majority of the novel's many characters are hardcore criminals, the language is very often coarse throughout the story. The number of such moments are what makes it difficult for me to recommend the book to anyone whose taste and tolerance for such things I do not know well. But the novel seems to me to have been an honest one, and as you wallow in the depths and the dregs with these gangsters, you sense the suffering from which they were born, and and begin to understand their Machiavellian existence. Again, James was able to take me to some places I've certainly never been, but I can't necessarily say I'm glad I went there.

Overall, this is a brilliantly executed novel by a man who possesses a great deal of talent, and yet it is a book that is likely to prove a challenging read to most, for the reasons I've listed and more. I can't say that I'm happy to have read it, but I can certainly appreciate the art that James has created, and I do take some personal satisfaction in having followed such an intricate story to its end. Reading difficult fiction isn't always enjoyable, but it is usually beneficial, and for that I can say I'm grateful to have read A Brief History of Seven Killings.


The Book of Night Women - Marlon James

By Ellen B. Gwynn

Others before me have perfectly described this novel, one of the most amazing I have ever read. The brutality of slavery; the twisted poison inside the whites; the humanity within every character -- Marlon James, like Lilith, thinks deeply about his characters and writes deeply about the society of the sugar cane plantation. He shows so many different kinds of relationships, all rooted in slavery and race. He is simply a brilliant writer. Also, I listened rather than read this novel, and Robin Miles' narration was utterly sublime. A different voice for every character, each of them perfect. Thank you Marlon James and Robin Miles for this creation.