I’ve got one day of holiday left before I go back to work and I’m feeling sad that I’m not going to have as much time to read as I have over the last two weeks.
My reading really slowed down during November and December, partly due to life getting very busy, but also partly due to me struggling to read the Jamaican gangster/politics novel A Brief History of Seven Killings over a whole month.
Despite having totally clogged up my reading schedule and feeling like the longest book I’ve ever read, I do think it’s a worthy Man Booker winner, as it transports you to a different world, and it’s such an amazingly complex construction of so many lives. I was very glad to come across this timely article from the LRB which explains how the fictional political shenanigans map onto real life, and pretty much provides a far better ad more comprehensive critical run down than I ever could. I haven’t been so much in need of a “York Notes” style crib sheet since reading To the Lighthouse for A-level. (Although the York Notes for TTL were rubbish – I still didn’t understand it afterwards.)
I think it’s no coincidence that Brief History and To the Lighthouse are both written using the stream of consciousness technique. I’d read about people having trouble getting through Brief History because of the style, so went into the first chapter having decided to try to “immerse” myself in the feel of the words rather than worry about what every single thing meant. I think I came out of the experience not too badly, and actually quite exhilarated by the high adrenaline opening action. It was just a bit much to realise that, after all that effort and self-congratulation, I was only about 2% through the book. Since about 95% of published books follow a rough format regarding plot and character developments, I can quite often read books very quickly by working out what each of the sections maps to. It just wasn’t possible with this book, part of the Marlon James had in writing it was how unconventional the plot and character developments became. In the end he said that he just had to go with the way the book was going.
Reading A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride a few days ago reminded me of how well I thought the voices in Brief History were done. There was a sliding scale through the characters from standard English, through standard English with a lot of Jamaican slang, to really very difficult to understand patois. The voices seemed very authentic and therefore to have a point, whereas I am still not sure what the unusual voice in Half-Formed was supposed to signify.
A Brief History was also refreshingly funny. A lot of the humour centred around the incompetence of some of the gangsters, but there was also humour in the attitudes of the different classes of characters towards each other.
I’m glad I read this, but I’m also hoping not to come across any similarly tough reading experiences in the near future.