Marlon James has become the first Jamaican to win the Man Booker Prize when his A Brief History of Seven Killings won the coveted 2015 award on Tuesday (14 October) at London's Guildhall. The 680-page book contains 75 characters and explores the turbulent world of Jamaican gangs and politics.
The 44-year old author, who was presented with his prize by the Duchess of Cornwall, walked away with £50,000. Michael Wood, chair of the judges described the book as the "most exciting" book on the shortlist, saying that it was "full of surprises" as well as being "very violent" and "full of swearing."
"There are many, many voices in the book and it just kept on coming, it kept on doing what it was doing. There is an excitement right from the beginning of the book," Wood said. He said it had quickly dawned on all the judges that James had to be the winner.
The judges reached the unanimous decision in less than two hours, Wood said. He praised the book's "many voices" which moved from "Jamaican slang to Biblical heights. "One of the pleasures of reading it is that you turn the page and you're not quite sure who the next narrator will be."
James said that it was surreal to win the award and dedicated his win to his late father, who he said had shaped his "literary sensibilities." James currently lives in Minneapolis in the US. Since his book was put on the Man Booker shortlist, monthly sales have tripled to more than 1,000 copies a week.
James cited Jamaican poet and writer Mervyn Morris's collection of essays Is English We Speaking as an inspiration. He said he learned about the malleability and flexibility of language from Morris, who showed that spoken English in the West Indies could be legitimate in literature.
This is the second year the Man Booker prize has been open to all authors writing in English, regardless of their nationality. The judging panel comprised of author Frances Osborne, the wife of Chancellor George; poet and novelist John Burnside, journalist Sam Leith and critic and broadcaster Ellah Wakatama Allfrey.