The 44-year-old, now resident in Minneapolis, is the first Jamaican author to win the prize in its 47-year history.
A Brief History of Seven Killings is a 686-page epic with over 75 characters and voices. Set in Kingston, where James was born, the book is a fictional history of the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1976. Of the book, the New York Times said: ‘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…epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex.’
Referring to Bob Marley only as ‘The Singer’ throughout, A Brief History of Seven Killings 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’ drug dealer – to create a rich, polyphonic study of violence, politics and the musical legacy of Kingston of the 1970s. James has credited Charles Dickens as one of his formative influences, saying ‘I still consider myself a Dickensian in as much as there are aspects of storytelling I still believe in—plot, surprise, cliffhangers’ (Interview Magazine).
This is the first Man Booker Prize winner for independent publisher, Oneworld Publications.
‘This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.
‘It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.’
In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, James also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.
On winning the Man Booker Prize, an author can expect international recognition, not to mention a dramatic increase in book sales. Last year’s winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, has sold 300,000 copies in the UK and almost 800,000 worldwide. Hardback sales of The Narrow Road to the Deep North in the week following his win eclipsed his combined BookScan sales for the previous decade. Flanagan described the experience as ‘the most extraordinary honour… you are fully aware that you are no longer standing in the same place you had been previously as a writer.’
Other recent winners have included Hilary Mantel (2012 and 2009), whose Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have been adapted into award-winning adaptations on stage and screen, and Julian Barnes (2011), whose The Sense of an Ending will soon be adapted for film. Other winning novels that have gone on to have second or third lives as stage and screen adaptations include Schindler’s Ark (directed by Steven Spielberg asSchindler’s List), TheRemains of the Day and The English Patient.
This is the second year that the prize, first awarded in 1969, has been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, the prize was open only to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.
First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as the leading award for high quality literary fiction written in English. Its list of winners features many of the giants of the last four decades: from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch to JM Coetzee.
Marlon James’ name was announced by Michael Wood at a black-tie dinner at London’s Guildhall, where James was presented with a trophy from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and a £50,000 cheque from Emmanuel Roman, Chief Executive of Man Group. Guests at the event, which was broadcast live on the BBC News Channel, included the shortlisted authors, well-known figures from the literary world and VIPs including the Duchess of Cornwall and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.
Marlon James will take part in his first public event as winner of the prize at Stylist LIVE on Thursday 15 October.
Royal Mail is issuing a congratulatory postmark featuring the winner’s name, which will be applied to stamped mail from Wednesday 14 to Saturday 17 October 2015.
Man Group has sponsored the prize since 2002. One of the world’s largest independent alternative investment managers, Man Group is a partner that mirrors the quality, integrity and longevity of the prize.