In Depth

Man Booker Prize 2015 goes to Jamaican author Marlon James

This year's prize shortlist had plenty of dark reading with tales of child abuse, self-harm and poverty

A novel by Jamaican author Marlon James about the attempted assassination of reggae legend Bob Marley has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize following a unanimous decision by the judging panel.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fictionalised account of the attempt on Marley's life, set against the backdrop of political and social upheaval in Kingston during the late 1970s.

According to the prize committee, James's novel "retells this near-mythic assassination attempt through the myriad voices – from witnesses and FBI and CIA agents to killers, ghosts, beauty queens and Keith Richards's drug dealer – to create a rich, polyphonic study of violence, politics and the musical legacy of Kingston".

The London Review of Books described it as a "masterpiece of imagination", while The Sunday Times called it an "epic enterprise, which encompasses Jamaica's history of political violence and the creation of drug-dealing empires stretching from Colombia to New York".

The Man Booker Prize carries a financial reward of £50,000, plus a huge uplift in sales, and is awarded annually to a novel written in English. It has been open to participants of any nationality for the past two years.

A Brief History of Seven Killings and the other five shortlisted novels for this year's prize didn't make for upbeat reading. The selected titles included tales of child abuse, self-harm, poverty and gang violence. The other finalists included two British authors (the experimental author Tom McCarthy, and Sunjeev Sahota), as well as two Americans (Anne Tyler and Hanya Yanagihara) and Chigozie Obioma from Nigeria.

Michael Wood, chair of the judges, said the final list of books were "pretty grim" with a "tremendous amount of violence", but fellow judge and author Sam Leith added that there "isn't a single book that isn't touched with humour".

Click here to order A Brief History of Seven Killings for £6.29

Here is a closer look at all six novels included on the shortlist:

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

McCarthy's intellectually playful, globe-trotting novel seems relatively brief at 176 pages, but it is densely packed with cultural theory, technology-speak, tribal lore and so on, from which the narrator, known simply as U, must compile a Great Report that will unlock the underlying codes of our age. Phil Hogan in The Guardian says it is "packed with daring cerebral insights and swashbuckling prose", but very little in the way of plot or character.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Sahota's novel follows a group of immigrant Indian labourers  – including the former rickshaw driver Tarlochan, the secretive Avtar and the unpredictable Randeep – who share a dilapidated house in Sheffield and are in search of a new life. The Daily Telegraph's Lucy Daniel wrote: "Without flights of fancy, neither sensationalising nor preachy, its greatest asset is that it doesn't oversimplify."

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Tyler's 20th novel is a family saga about a Baltimore house and the Whitshank family who have lived there for two generations. Tyler shifts back and forth between the present and the past, unpicking the family myths to reveal the threads of self-delusion and disappointment. Catherine Taylor in The Independent writes that "Tyler's portraits of American lives are very fine indeed".

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Yanagihara's doorstop-length saga exploring the troubled friendship between four young college graduates living in New York, one with a shocking history of abuse, divided the critics and the public. Jon Michaud in the New Yorker wrote that this book could "drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life". It has also been called "a dark fairytale", "a miserabilist epic", and even "the great gay novel".

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Marlon James was the first Jamaican writer to be nominated for Man Booker. His novel tells the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley as part of the wider story of violence in Jamaica in the 1970s and 1980s. The New York Times wrote: "It's 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."

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Obioma's first novel is a Cain and Abel story set in 90s Nigeria. Four brothers who skip school to go fishing meet a mad prophet who foretells that the oldest will be killed by one of the others. The Independent said it was "a strikingly accomplished debut, hailing Chigozie Obioma as a bold new voice in Nigerian fiction".

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