In a Man Booker field with one skinny, experimental novel (Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island) and two luridly violent fat ones (A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life), you might have predicted—I did—that one of the middle-sized contenders would prove the consensus candidate. I was betting on Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways (as was the mystery gambler Mr. Smith, recently written up in The Telegraph, who picked last year’s winner by perusing reviews and the judges’ Wikipedia entries, not by reading the books). It’s hard to think of a subject more topical than the migrant experience; plus, here was a suitably dark entry in a generally grim shortlist, but less gory than some.
Instead, Marlon James’s big and bloody A Brief History of Seven Killings is the winner. We’ll never know, of course, whether big and verbally bloody battles edged out Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which the bookies had pegged a front-runner. Perhaps it’s worth noting that, over the past month or so, initially sensational acclaim for A Little Life has made way for controversy, as detractors—and doubters, like Stephanie Hayes in our Man Booker read-along—have begun weighing in. With Marlon James, the prize goes to a Jamaican for the first time, putting to rest for a second year the fears that Americans might be taking over. More important, a novel like his sets high standards for risk-taking ambition.