A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

A hungry, soaring triumph of a story, Marlon James’ third novel more than confirms his reputation as a teller of good tales – it announces A Brief History of Seven Killings as this year’s unequivocal must-read, a titan in its own class. Tackling Bob Marley’s life in music and out of it, James catapults the reader through several decades, bringing us hosts of players both foul and fair, duking it out in wars (and rumours of wars). He knits the whole with dizzying talent, exploring violence and the potent triad of sex, drugs and reggae, showing us the true faces of Jamaicans in love with each other, the music, and Jah on high.

In our Christmas newsletter last year, we praised this as the ideal triad-topper, for those seeking to complete their Marlon James oeuvre. Though the focal points of each narrative are distinct, if you loved John Crow’s Devil and The Book of Night Women, you’ll thrill to James’ storytelling strengths ringing true for a third time. It’s a sure bet for lovers of experimental fiction that flouts easy pigeonholing, for readers of Irvine Welsh and Iain M. Banks.

With a cast of characters this diverse, there’s always someone to root for, as much as there’s someone else to revile: James’ prowess in this richer-than-contraband-rum world weaving is that the differences between people shine as much as their similarities. In music, corruption and the desire for more, these men, women and not so fresh-faced youths curse and love each other with all the human desperation that everyday living affords.

“But in another city, another valley, another ghetto, another slum, another favela, another township, another intifada, another war, another birth, somebody is singing Redemption Song, as if the Singer wrote it for no other reason but for this sufferah to sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now.”

Perhaps one of the chiefest pleasures of A Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, is to remind us in searing, sharply ambitious writing that life is happening all around us, in every impossible breath.

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This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

HowyouLose

Longlisted for the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (full longlist here)

Díaz doesn’t resurrect Yunior in this collection of short stories so much as he returns him to the prominence that quasi-autobiographical protagonist has enjoyed in the Pulitzer Prize winner’s previous works, Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. In these new fictive examinations, Yunior is interminably unfaithful when it comes to romantic relationships, and betrayal shines at the dark heart of these forays and fumblings into what we do with love when it’s found us, and what love does to us whether we like it or not.

Selected as a finalist for the 2012 National Book AwardsThis Is How You Lose Her marks a messy, necessary route of self-discovery for Yunior, while revealing the seedy underbelly of the human capacity for treachery. It is a collection of fragmented, jettisoned selves, territories, languages and desires: within this colourful, jangling kaleidoscope of excess and separation, Díaz’s prose emerges as lushly ornamented (without falling into too-muchness) as it has been in his other two works of fiction. This is Díaz as we’ve read him before, and loved (or hated) him before, but unquestionably, if you’re a fan of his writing on the basis of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, then This Is How You Lose Her might well signal your perfect trinity. It serves to cement the writer solidly in the shoes of a literary heavyweight, if indeed there had previously been any doubt.