Literary Pop: A Brief History of Seven Killings

“If it no go so, it go near so. —Jamaican proverb”

Author: Marlon James
Nationality: Jamaican
Year: 2014

briefhistWhat eventually turned out to be the last book I read in January was A Brief History of Seven Killings, winner of the 2015 Booker Prize.  I had been becoming a little concerned that I would run out of 2015 books, having finished three already by the 16th, but honestly I needn’t have worried.  More about that later.  This was naturally a priority for January even though it soon transpired that it was actually published in 2014 (I’m willing to overlook the discrepancy if you are).   It’s the third novel by Jamaican author Marlon James, following 2005’s debut John Crow’s Devil and the well-received The Book of Night Women from 2009.

Take Trainspotting, transport it to Jamaica, double the number of characters, double the number of pages, add in an assassination attempt on a world-famous singer, and you’ve got A Brief History of Seven Killings.  The novel, told from the perspective of at least ten different characters in about five time periods, revolves around (and around and around) a fictional account of the planning, failure and aftermath of the real-life 1976 attempt on the singer’s life.  In a Kingston ruled by warring gangs and their devious leaders, nobody who plays a part in the plot is safe from the recriminations of one who wishes to keep his name out of the mud for good.

It was a decent book, but the combination of the facts that a) it was very hard to get into, and b) it was very long, made me seriously consider whether it was really worth it.  It’s against my moral fibre to abandon a book once I’ve committed to reading it but I can imagine many people putting Seven Killings down long before the end.  Unlike Trainspotting, which continues in the same vernacular and allows you to become accustomed, different characters in James’ novel speak with varying degrees of Jamaican patois which never allows you to feel comfortable (although maybe that’s deliberate). It’s probably telling that since finishing the novel at the end of January it’s taken me the best part of a month to gather up the strength to review it.  It’s not that it’s a bad book, just that it was a lot of work.  Indeed, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn lots I didn’t know about Jamaican language, history, and culture as well as the life and death of Marley.

I’m not one to recommend anyone against reading a book.  It wasn’t really for me at this time, and will probably remain not really for me because I don’t envision myself reading it again.  Nevertheless I think, all things considered, that it’s just about worth a read.  It did win the Booker Prize, after all.  But make your own mind up.  One thing I will say: be prepared.


My rating: 6/10

Pop Obituary: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman was born on July 23rd, 1967 in Fairport, New York to parents Marilyn and Gordon, although they divorced not long after in 1976. Having taken up acting in high school following an injury-curtailed pursuit of wrestling, he took to his new hobby quickly and after attending theatre schools and earning his drama degree Hoffman first graced screens in a 1991 episode of NBC’s Law and Order.  1992 was his breakthrough year cinematically, earning supporting roles in four feature films (most notably the multiple Academy Award-nominated Scent of a Woman alongside Al Pacino).  More supporting parts followed, such as in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999), as well as 1998’s cult favourite The Big Lebowski.  Despite his well-received performances, Hoffman was rarely given lead roles although he had top billing in both Love Liza in 2002 and Owning Mahoney the following year.

Hoffman in 2003's Owning Mahoney
Hoffman in 2003’s Owning Mahoney

After smaller roles in Cold Mountain and Along Came Polly, Philip was cast as writer Truman Capote in the 2005 biopic, Capote. For this role Hoffman received widespread acclaim and numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor on his first try.  This role put him firmly on the scene as an A-list actor, and in 2007 he starred in Sidney Lumet’s final film, the critically-acclaimed Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.  Despite these successes in lead roles, Hoffman remained mostly as a supporting actor in his later films; he received more Oscar nominations in pshdoubtthis category for Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008) and The Master (2012), although he was unsuccessful on all three occasions.  He was also an active part of both the television and theatre scenes; he was nominated for an Emmy for Empire Falls and Tony Awards for True West, Death of a Salesman and Long Day’s Journey into Night. It is cinema however for which he will be most significantly remembered, and his final roles came as Plutarch Heavensbee in the later films of the Hunger Games series.

Hoffman, in a relationship with costume designer Mimi O’Donnell from 1999, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction after leaving college but was recovered by the age of 22.  In 2013, however, he suffered a relapse and checked into a rehab clinic citing problems with heroin and prescription drugs as the problem.  On February 2nd, 2014 he was found dead in his Manhattan apartment by friend and playwright David Bar Katz in what appears to have been a drug-related catastrophe.  He leaves behind his wife and three children:  son Cooper (born 2003) and daughters Tallulah (2006) and Willa (2008).

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor admired by almost everyone, including me.  I particularly enjoyed his performances in The Big Lebowski and Magnolia as well as more recently Doubt and his comic turn in 2009’s The Boat That Rocked.  It is a shame that he didn’t appear in more central roles, although clearly he excelled in supporting positions to the extent that he was more often called upon in this capacity.  Nevertheless, he could evidently handle the spotlight since in one his few lead roles he won what most consider to be the highest accolade.  He was a popular actor in the industry, particularly with Paul Thomas Anderson who cast Hoffman in five of his six features so far.  He was undoubtedly an excellent actor, and 46 is far too young to lose anyone.


Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

Pop News: 86th Academy Award nominees announced

oscars-2013-670The nominations for the top awards for this year’s Oscar ceremony, to be held on March 2nd, are as follows:

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O Russell, American Hustle
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

More to follow, and I’ll add links to any reviews of mine as and when they are created.