Marlon James’s Booker win is bloody brilliant news

The best man won, y’all. I don’t think anyone is seriously disputing that. Here’s why:

1. A Brief History of Seven Killings is simply an amazing book: polyphonic, violent, emotive, compassionate, unsentimental. Other books on the shortlist were similar in length and ambition, but not one of them had the explosive energy of A Brief History, nor the ability to be unceasingly gripping for all of its 700-odd pages.

2. It suggests that the Man Booker Prize isn’t locked in to staid, standard literary realism. Let’s be honest, this has been a worry for a while. When I reviewed A Brief History, I wrote that I wanted it to win, but doubted that it would because the prize seemed too historically conservative to value a novel like this. The fact that this year’s panel proved me wrong is also great for another reason:

3. It will renew general interest in literary culture. I’ve already had a conversation (impassioned, evangelical) with two of my coworkers, both of whom were a) very interested in the book, and b) confessed that they ordinarily avoid Booker winners like the plague. If this year’s panel had tried, they couldn’t have done better at announcing that the stereotypical insularity of British literary culture needed a shake-up.

The diversity point seems too much like tokenism to mention, but it does please me hugely that another Commonwealth writer has won, and a writer, moreover, who is not interested in the white, middle-class concerns typical of longlisters like Andrew O’Hagan, Bill Clegg and (dare I say it) Anne Tyler. The world wants more varied stories, and there are more varied stories out there to be told. It’s delightful to see the literary establishment finally acknowledging that.

Also, this whole scenario tickles me for some reason. Maybe it’s because his hairband matches her shawl. 

I reviewed A Brief History of Seven Killings in August; you can read what I thought of it here.

6 thoughts on “Marlon James’s Booker win is bloody brilliant news

  1. I haven’t read it yet, but given its subject matter I can be sure that one of my friends is going to select it for book group as soon as the paperback is available. I can see us having a very heated discussion about it.

    1. No doubt! There’s a lot to talk about. I massively enjoyed it, but I can see how opinion might be divided. Get ready to learn a lot of new Jamaican swearwords!

  2. I’m so excited that James won. I could have mustered up some happiness for Sahota because I loved Year of the Runaways as well, but Seven Killings is in a whole different league from the other contenders. (Although Lila still has my heart as my favorite from the longlist.)

    1. A whole different league, absolutely. I haven’t read the Sahota yet, but I do hear that it’s good and I’ll probably seek it out. But A Brief History was obviously the most vivid and powerful–the whole shortlist was strong but there was still no competition!

  3. I really need to read this book now, I wasn’t sure if it was for me, but it sounds like I need to get over that presumption.

    I wanted The Fishermen to win because I loved it, but also because I hadn’t read the rest. I was certain A Little Life would win. I like to be proved wrong.

    1. I’m quite glad A Little Life didn’t win, because although it was totally engrossing, I could see some serious flaws with it (mostly the length). Definitely read A Brief History!

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