When a book starts with a four page long list of characters you get an early sense of the level of complexity that’s going to follow – and in the case of this novel its 686 pages of it!
This book took me an eternity to read having started it on holiday in late January and only just finishing it at the end of March. It’s not an easy read, the narrative is split and lead by a number of different characters (who aren’t all consistently part of the novel) and the prose is written in a Jamaican accent (think a Jamaican equivalent of trainspotting) – but once you get into that flow and read it in that accent it’s ok!
The novel is about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976, but the bulk of the novel is focuses around the people around ‘the singer’ and their loves rather than Being a story about Bob Marley himself.
For someone with no real knowledge or understanding of the politics, history and culture of Jamaica this book is a real dive into the heart of it. The backdrop of extreme gang violence and drug crime around a musician associated with peace and love was somewhat of a surprise to me, more the extent to which James highlights it than the fact is exists. Life is incredibly cheap in the ghettos of Kingston and again when the plot moves to America it takes the cheapness of life with it to Miami and New York too.
I enjoyed this book the most when I was reading on a hot beach with nothing else to be thinking about than getting swept up in the book, it felt like much harder work reading it the odd chapter at a time on the way to work or when I was tired before bed. So whilst it’s a tough read, I still think it’s worth it – just save it for a long holiday on a hot beach, with some headphones playing the best of Bob.
…killing don’t need no reason. This is ghetto. Reason is for rich people. We have madness.
You can’t come guns blazing if you don’t have any guns, he’ll, if you were coming to pick up guns