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Marlon James claims Man Booker Prize with Jamaican crime tale

Published 13/10/2015

Marlon James has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize
Marlon James has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize

An epic re-telling of the attempted assassination of reggae superstar Bob Marley has won the Man Booker Prize.

A Brief History Of Seven Killings sees a uthor Marlon James, 44, become the first Jamaican to win the coveted literary prize in its 47-year history.

The 686-page story includes large sections written in Jamaican patois, covers the attempted murder of the reggae singer in 1976 and the rise of the drug trade on the island.

It is set in Kingston, Jamaica, and has over 75 characters, voices and witnesses including from FBI and CIA agents to killers, ghosts, beauty queens and Keith Richards's drug dealer.

The judges unanimously picked the book as the winner after "more than one but less than two hours of deliberation," according to Michael Wood, chairman of the judging panel.

The book is loaded with Jamaican patois - including a whole chapter - bad language and a testing subject matter, but Mr Wood, urged people to read it, even though he might not give it to his own mother to read.

He said: "I think there is a kind of excitement right from the beginning. I think (James) has thought 'I am not trying to rub people's noses in difficult terms, I am trying to get them to think about things that are actually out there'.

"'I am going to give them ways in and I am going to give them voices they can listen to'. A lot of it is very very funny and a lot of it is very human.

"It is not an easy read. It is a big book. There is some tough stuff and there is a lot of swearing but it is not a difficult book to approach. It is not a difficult book to get into."

The New York Times described the book as "like a Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner ... epic in every sense of that word".

Mr Wood said the book was about social conditions.

He joked that his mother probably would not have got past "the first few pages on the basis of the swearing".

James was born in Kingston, Jamaica and currently lives in Minneapolis, and this is his third novel.

James refers to Marley as The Singer throughout.

James was presented with a trophy by the Duchess of Cornwall at a glittering ceremony at the Guildhall in central London.

He also received the £50,000 cheque, gets a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

The judges started off with 156 books before whittling it down to a shortlist of six finalists.

Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, who had been the bookmakers' hot favourite, had made the final cut along with fellow American, Anne Tyler for A Spool Of Blue Thread.

Sunjeev Sahota's The Year Of The Runaways was also a finalist along with British compatriot Tom McCarthy for Satin Island and Nigeria's Chigozie Obioma for The Fishermen.

This is the second year the prize has been open to writers of any nationality writing in English and published in the UK having previously been restricted to the UK and Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe.

The prize comes with the added fillip of a guaranteed boost to sales, with last year's winner, The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan, selling almost 800,000 copies worldwide.

Jonathan Ruppin, web editor of Foyles bookshops, d escribed it as " a visceral and uncompromising novel that sheds a stark light on a profoundly disturbing chapter of Jamaica's history".

He said: "I t's also an ingeniously structured feat of storytelling that draws the reader in with its eye-catching use of language. For booksellers, it's truly heartening to see such ambition and originality recognised and rewarded, and readers have already been embracing it with great enthusiasm."

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