Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings

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A brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James wasn’t really brief and contained far more than seven killings. I must say that this was not an easy read. Told by numerous characters (mostly in Jamaican patois) the story that unfolds over 688 pages of fine print consisted of a lot of bloody gang violence, political turmoil and the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. I had my difficulty with this novel, especially the language was extremely hard to understand and I felt that I would have to read it again, just to understand it in its total complexity. There were definitely some characters that I really cared about and whenever it was their turn to speak I was fully engaged with the story. Also, the author managed to paint a very authentic (or so i assume) picture of Jamaican politics. I am definitely looking forward to the HBO series that is being created based on this novel, I think it could be great. One quote that stood out:

“Who want peace anyway when all that means is that you still poor?”

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Chigozie Obioma – The Fishermen

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The novel is told from the perspective of one of the (now adult) brothers and can be read in many ways. On the surface it is the story of a family, the father takes on a job in another city and the dynamic of the household changes drastically. Then one day the brothers receive a deadly prophecy and their lives are forever changed. But the story is also a snapshot of Nigerian politics, a fairy tale, a fable, a crime- and coming of age story. Many times Obioma is questioning the prophecy through his characters but he still leaves room for imagination. Even though a sentence like:

“you are all doing this to yourself because of your fear”

seems rational at times, at others I found myself being drawn into his mystical world of curses and visions and am not so sure what to believe.

Teju Cole – Open City

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I have rarely read a book that has made me feel such a range of different emotions. While reading (actually I had to force myself to read it) I felt I couldn’t connect with the storyline. It just seemed like the main character was stringing together meaningless observations. He met strangers, he went to Brussels, he expressed opinions on political matters. It was also extremely uncomfortable to be with the main character, his life seemed so lonely, so devoid of true emotions.
My opinion about the novel did however change drastically when I got to its rather disturbing end. Then everything made sense. The way the story was told, the lack of emotion, the shreds of memories from his past. I now feel that Teju Cole has written a very brave and important book, describing rather perfectly what for so many women is a sad reality.
From now on I will never judge a book until I have finished it.

Jonathan Lethem – You don’t love me yet

I found in the little bookstore just down my street. I must admit that I haven’t really read anything by Jonathan Lethem before. Years ago I had read the beginning of The Fortress of Solitude but back then it wasn’t my thing. I will give it another try now, considering I really liked this novel. It was a quirky blend of music, sex and kangaroos. So quirky that at times it reminded me of Miranda July. The story was almost soapy, like the literary equivalent of a mumble core movie. What I liked most about it were the descriptions of Los Angeles:

“[…] the largest inhabited abandoned city on earth.”

Ali Smith – Hotel World

IMG_2206I’ve been meaning to read a novel by Ali Smith for a long time and when I saw this copy of Hotel World on a shelf in my library I immediately picked it up. I guess what draws me to Smith is her unique style. Often times the story is being told as a stream-of-consciousness monologue by one of the characters. So as the point of view shifts, so does the language. I like this because we are not presented with a narrator who polishes all language to be homogenous and easily accessible. The characters, even though they are all intertwined get their own voices. Even the dead ones.
The stories of the characters are all connected to the hotel. We get to meet a depressed receptionist, a girl that fell to her death, and the sister that mourns her, a homeless woman who gets a free room and a woman that stays at the hotel to write about it. And even though each of the women has her own story and her own issues to face they are all connected with each other. Sometimes through pain and sometimes through chance.
I must admit though that I liked the novel less than its theoretical concept. I could relate to some of the characters but especially at the end the novel felt more like a statement about form. I have read a lot about Ali Smith and about her work and somehow I believe that this probably wasn’t her strongest work. I definitely want to read more by her, as her style, as unique as it is in Hotel World, is probably even more refined in some of her other novels, stories and essays.