Archive for : September, 2015

post image

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James – A Review

Written by Marlon James, this is an oral history which is told through multiple voices. It is difficult to make multiple voices work in a novel, but James has expertly been able to make it successful. The characters are engaging and real which make them much easier to listen to as the multiple voices of the story unravel. If you can get past the Jamaican accents in the writing you will surely find the characters are remarkable at telling this story.

The overall negative aspect of this book is the long list of characters that you must keep straight and who are telling the story; seventy six characters in all. There is a list sorted by time and location at the beginning of the book, but this hardly makes it easier to understand the overall story. If you can get over the large list of characters and understand the important ones and the story they are telling, you will get so much more out of this book. You will likely find yourself turning to the front list of characters several times while you are reading this book.

The story of politics and crime is hardly a new one. But in Kingston back in 1976 this story really is able to bring us through some of the big events of crime and politics from a unique perspective. There is the attempted assassination of Bob Marley before his 1976 concert and the bloodbath of conspirators that happened afterwards. There is plenty of violence in this book as well as gangs, CIA agents and plots. Again, returning to the character list at the beginning of the book is going to be necessary to keep all the characters straight.

The politics and deceit that James writes about in this book takes on a new and interesting turn because of his writing. We are interested in all the characters and happy to turn back and forth trying to keep them straight. You will love the blood and fights, the subornation and survival; all extremely enthralling as you read A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is very good at using the characters in this book to drive the plot and continue to make you want to read more and more, before you know it you will have finished the book and might even want to read it a second time.

post image

Self by Yann Martel – A Review

The Life of Pi is a movie people are not going to forget very soon and the book that preceded it is also a very good one. In fact, The Life of Pi received the Mann Booker Prize long before the movie even came out and, truth be told, that book really did deserve it.

The Life of Pi was not Martel’s first attempt at literature though and if you are curious to find out more about his style and about the other books that he has written, it is worth reading Self as well as his other books as well.

Self did not win as much attention as The Life of Pi did (and it was published before that, actually). It had no prizes and critics received it with split opinions when it was first released. However, for the sake of getting to know Yann Martel better, a read is definitely worth it. On surface, Self will appear to you as nothing more but yet-another-postmodern-book-on-gender-ambiguity. And many of its readers actually do believe that Self was written according to a set of “postmodern rules” and that the author simply tried to write about these themes precisely because they were popular at the time.

Self’s plot revolves around a narrator that goes to a private school and travels to Portugal when he graduated. He goes to sleep as a man, but suddenly wakes up as a woman. Surprisingly for the reader, she is not surprised herself by this and she goes on with her life as if nothing happened. She attends university, she travels to various countries (Spain and Thailand being among these), she has several love affairs and, finally she gets published and returns to Canada where she continues to write and hires herself as a waitress. She meets her final love, Tito, as well and when everything seems to be going great, she is raped by a neighbor – point at which she returns to being a male.

To anyone familiar with the Life of Pi, this book will seem completely different – and it is. In fact, Self is wanted as an autobiography blended with fantasy and the odd mixture of genres is what left some of the readers at a loss on what this book is really about and why would they like it in any way.

Generally speaking, readers are split in between loving the book and hating it. On the one side there are those who see the originality, as well as the clear flow between the two genders Martel manages to portray in the book. On the other side though, there are those who say that this book is but a poor attempt at creating a “postmodern” book with “postmodern” themes.

Self is most likely different than what you have read before and clearly different from Martel’s most well-known book, The Life of Pi. However, if you want a read that is different and that will make you think a bit, then this book will work very well. Also, don’t expect this to be any kind of lift-me-up because it will not be. The final raping scene is painful and sad, as Martel has managed to really make the most of his talent there.

All in all, Self is a book that you will either absolutely love or deeply despise – and it is really difficult to find a way in between these two sides. If you like odd styles, if you can follow through with one voice that changes its identity and explores it at the same time and if you are generally interested in what Yann Martel has to offer, then grab it and read it!