Day 1164: A Brief History of Seven Killings

Cover for A Brief History of Seven KillingsI have so many thoughts about A Brief History of Seven Killings, but not many of them are positive. The novel is based around an assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, the reasons behind the attempt, and the ramifications for 20 years later. It is about political skullduggery and the drug wars.

The novel begins days before an election in Jamaica. The political parties in the country have connections with gangs running specific areas of Kingston, and the areas of the city belonging to the wrong party get no services. So, an election is an excuse for an outbreak of violence.

Bob Marley, though, has been working with the dons of the two biggest gangs to bring about a peace concert. The CIA is worried about Jamaica turning communist if the JPL party is elected. One of the first narrators is the ghost of a politician who has already been killed in the battle for power. Out of what seems to be chaos comes Josey Wales, an enforcer for one of the gangs, who is more interested in getting involved with Columbian drug dealers than in following his gang’s agenda. The price for allowing him an in with Medellin—kill Bob Marley.

Although this beginning results in the flood of cocaine and crack into U. S. cities, I expected this novel to fit together more cleanly, a bit like Leif GW Persson’s trilogy about the assassination of a Swedish prime minister. It was much messier than that.

The novel was written from the points of view of many characters, most of whom are thugs. Much of the narrative is in Jamaican slang and a little hard to understand. All but one of the characters are abhorrent, and I had great difficulty reading the novel even though I was interested to see what would happen. The novel is brutal, the thoughts and conversations of most of its characters disgusting, and loaded with sexism. A lot more people are killed than seven (in fact, I wasn’t even completely sure which seven the title referred to), and at almost 700 pages, the novel is anything but brief. (I believe the title is meant ironically.) Occasionally, when reading some character’s narratives, especially the heroine addicts, I felt like screaming.

One Goodreads reviewer said the novel is not for the faint of heart. I am not generally squeamish, but I found the novel an agony to read, even though its subject matter is interesting. This novel was the 2015 winner of the Booker Prize. I am fairly sure that when it comes time for my article about which book I would have chosen, this won’t be it.

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Day 1000: High Dive

Cover for High DiveWell, today I post my thousandth review, so I guess it’s sort of a red letter day. I thought I’d celebrate by reviewing a book recommended to me by John Warner, the Biblioracle. If you send him a list of the last five books you read, he’ll recommend a book to you. I thought it sounded fun and got this recommendation.

As it is about an attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher in 1984, an actual event, High Dive didn’t seem like the type of novel that would appeal to me. Yet it is full of empathy as it examines the lives of several people affected by the bombing. Jonathan Lee was inspired by the rumors that a second man, besides Patrick McGee, who was arrested for the bombing, was involved.

That man is Dan, a young member of the IRA who specializes in explosives. We first meet him on his initiation at the age of 19, when he refuses to kill some dogs just because the IRA members tell him to. He volunteers for the big job years later without knowing exactly what it is and is taken aback when he learns it will probably involve the death of civilians.

The plot is to plant a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton days before the start of a conference that Thatcher will attend. The bomb will be set to go off after she is in the building.

Moose Finch, the assistant general manager of the hotel, is proud that he managed to attract the conference away from the Metropole. His boss is retiring, and he hopes to be promoted to general manager if the conference goes well. Moose is an ex-athlete who seemed as a young man to have a brighter future. He blames his lack of opportunities on not being able to attend university, and he wants his daughter Freya to have the advantages he feels he missed.

Freya isn’t sure what she wants to do. She knows her summer job at the hotel bores her stiff. She is still trying to figure out her goals, learn who are her true friends, and work out her relationship to boys.

The tension of the novel comes from wondering what will happen when the bomb goes off, but we spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, including Dan, the bomber. The insights into the characters are subtle, their personalities interesting. I found this a compelling novel.

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