Archive for the ‘ANRC 2016’ Category


ANRC 16: Guest blogger Lee on Marlon James’ A Brief History Of Seven Killings

June 6, 2016

When I was a kid, Jamaica was a place where they played cricket with a cavalier attitude.

A few years later and it was the source of “the reggae music”. Of course it was happening when I was a kid, but who could find it in Bendigo in the early ‘70s, or even on radio.

james-coverBob Marley and the Wailers were my introduction to reggae, later I would find there were many others, but Marley has been described as the first Third World superstar, and few would argue.

As a cadet journalist at the Bendigo Advertiser in 1976 I remember being aware of his being shot in December.

The shooting, its lead up and aftermath provide the starting point for Marlon James’s novel.

Fair warning, the only place Bob Marley is mentioned by name is on the back cover of my edition. For James’s novel he is the Singer.

This is a grim and gritty tale of a Third World country where power resides in the shadows and its protagonists are blunt instruments to achieve their ends.

The multi-strand narrative, its scope and voices put it in league with such novels as Don Delillo’s Underworld, American Tabloid, by James Ellroy, and Richard Price’s Clockers, but by the end the prevailing mood cleaves more tightly with Nelson Algren’s bleak Never Come Morning. For every Singer who climbs out of the ghetto, there are so many more who ensure that not only do they not escape, they provide the means of enslavement of others.

James uses many voices to reveal his story, each individual offering windows to actions and motives that might or might not be relevant to the central story.

A word here for the reader, his use of patois can at times be impenetrable, but stick with it. Word is Brief History of Seven Killings is being made into a TV series, so subtitles might help.

For the first four parts, the tale is told in turn by the protagonists. There is dialogue, but only told from the point of view of the narrator of the part.

And those narrators include gang bosses, underbosses, kids who do their bidding, a groupie, an American music journalist, CIA and ex-CIA operatives, a revolutionary, politicians – almost anyone, except the Singer, who is present as the shooting victim, to be observed and to observe justice being meted out later.

One of the towering achievements is to give each a distinctive voice, vocabulary and personality through their voices. James helpfully provides a list at the start that proves helpful in keeping track of the players.

The Jamaica depicted here is a short distance from cricket’s Sabina Park but a long way for those living in these ghettos, fictional suburbs about where Trench Town is situated.

The gang territories are marked out and woe betide the member who transgresses. Copenhagen City is the domain of Papa-Lo and his lieutenant Josey Wales, Shotta Sherrif rules the Eight Lanes and there are various sub-gangs in this corrugated iron landscape. Of course, it can be worse, that would be the Garbagelands.

Politics is central to the story and largely irrelevant to the foot soldiers. The gangs are allied with the JLP or PNP, but when gang members are sent out to do the bosses’ and their bosses’ bidding, it is for short-term reward, drugs usually, not ideology.

The CIA has raised its presence, fearful Jamaica will become another domino just over the horizon from the United States, while the revolutionary is happy to provide hardware to help the communist cause, or any cause that will pay his price.

It then later moves to the criminal enterprises of the Jamaicans in New York, ideology well and truly in the rear view mirror.

The narratives continue, though the contributors dwindle in number, mostly because they die, and never happily or of old age.

In the author’s note at the end there is a warning to his mother about a section, now whether it is because the violence steps up or the gay sex is moot. Both serve to advance the story and are in context, so hopefully Marlon’s mum understood.

If this all seems a little vague the main concern is that a wrong word here or there could so easily spoil what is a great read.


Welcome to ANRC 2016! Just sans Andy, and five months late …

May 10, 2016


And then there was one.

As those of you who regularly read our humble little literary blog know, Andy has bid us adieu for now. Hopefully it is not the last time we will see him around these parts, but he has taken (at least) this year off ANRC while he tackles the full reading list that comes with doing his PhD.

Meanwhile I have decided to continue with this blog, but was reluctant to tackle it on my own. I reckon its main strength has always lay with the “he said/she said” format we adopted from the get-go. So with that in mind, I am drafting in a succession of guest bloggers to join me on my journey through the great (and occasionally not-so-great) books of (mostly) modern times.

This is also my opportunity to get stuck into some of those books that Andy had long vetoed (Moby-Dick, here I come!), or that I was keen to do but couldn’t because Andy had already read them.

Usually, we provide the list of books we will be reading before we kick off each year (and yeah, I know it’s May, but you know – that’s life). I won’t be doing that this year, primarily because both the list of books – and the peeps who’ll be reading them with me – is still being finalised.

However, I can reveal that this month’s book will be last year’s Man Booker winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon Samuels. And I will be joined by my pal Lee in dissecting it. You can expect to read our thoughts very early next month.

On a personal note, this year marks a decade since Andy and I sat in a pub, got pissed, and dreamed up the idea for this blog. Since then we’ve read – and written about – more than 100 books. We’ve discovered writers who have become our favourite authors; we’ve marvelled at and moaned about various books; we’ve worked our way through some of the major novels, non-fiction, plays and poems of the 20th century (and a little before and a little afterwards. It’s been a helluva ride. And that ride ain’t over yet!

See you in June, fellow literature lovers!