I didn’t finish Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. I read enough of it that I’m okay writing a review, but if you find my incomplete reading problematic by all means – skip the review. (and I’m sorry M. though maybe you want to quit, too?)
So why did I stop? I read Infinite Jest this summer, and I feel like one reader should only have to triumph over one epic and polyphonous in any given year. Plus I was bored by it. I shouldn’t have been. The plot is compelling: set in Jamaica in the 70s and 80s as gangs and guns and the CIA get all muddled up and Bob Marley is nearly assassinated. So why was I bored? It wasn’t a problem of not knowing anything about Bob Marley (stipulated that I don’t know anything about Bob Marley) or Jamaican political history (likewise). I’m happy – indeed trying! – to read outside my ken. No, the problem was that the novel more closely resembles a series of interconnected short stories with each (brief) chapter shifting perspective so that the reader builds the plot with these intersecting and overlapping points of view. The cast of characters that opens the novel is helpful (even necessary), but with the relatively brief snapshots of each, no one character builds a fully fledged personality. As a consequence for this reader I struggled to believe (or even identify) motivations for attempting assassination, or following so-and-so-, or plotting such-and-such. The work of piecing these stories together is often worthwhile (see Jennifer Eagan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad for an example of this kind of perfection), but in this case the novel didn’t give me enough to grasp (either in plot or theme I guess) to make the work worthwhile.
So I made it about halfway through. And maybe all the threads end up beautifully woven and I should persevere. All the reviews and awards seem to be in agreement that I should. But life is short, and this book is not, so on I go.