You are here

Why Marlon James is not miserable now

Why Marlon James is not miserable now

You might think, given that A Brief History of Seven Killings is based around an assassination attempt on Bob Marley, that the musical tastes of the Man Booker 2015 winner Marlon James would tend towards the reggae end of the spectrum. Not so. As he puts it: ‘Many middle-class nerds in Jamaica like me didn’t really listen to reggae in the '80s. We listened to alt bands like the Cure, the Smiths, New Order, Skinny Puppy.’ More dweeb than dude, the song that meant most to James was The Smiths' angsty I Know it's Over. ‘The song took everything I had built up about myself and tore it all to shreds,’ says James. ‘It was the first time I had gotten real about how empty my life was. When you’re 15 and a reject, you’re looking for communion, even if you would never admit it. I wanted a painting of myself, but I got a mirror instead.’ The song's power remains undiminished: ‘It is still a painful song to listen to, though it’s also funny. It comes back to me when I’m super-lonely or depressed, but now it makes me laugh at myself and my nonexistent drama.’ In terms of drama, there was enough in the relationship between the song's writers, Morrissey and Johnny Marr, to furnish the material for a James novel.


It might have to wait though. Even before he won the Man Booker, HBO had bought the filming option for James's book. James himself is currently writing the screenplay – or at least the pilot – for the soon-to-be television series, although he is cagey about details: ‘Things are moving pretty, pretty well,’ he told one interviewer. “We have a director who's very, very interested, but I can't reveal it because if I tell you I'd have to kill you.’


It would be unfair to mention them by name but at least two reputable news sites have used the identical headline: ‘Novelist Marlon James Wins the Man Booker Prize’. Even more newsworthy would have been the news that it wasn't a novelist who won the prize – a bus driver perhaps or a nurse.


John Burnside, one of the judges who chose James's book, was asked in a brief Q&A what he is reading. Unsurprisingly he pointed out that now that he has just ‘finished reading 150 plus novels for the Man Booker Prize, and then re-reading the shortlist – I’m sticking to non-fiction for a while’. More surprising was his answer to the question: Which fictional character most resembles you? His answer: Moby Dick. Burnside – poet, novelist, memoirist – is indeed a substantial figure but that is where the resemblance to anything cetacean begins and ends.


Two of last year's Man Booker shortlisted authors have made the longlist for the DSC South Asian Literature Prize worth $50,000. Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others and Anuradha Roy's Sleeping on Jupiter are among the 11 books nominated. The winner will be announced on 26th November at the London School of Economics.