Friday, December 25, 2015



I tend to be a skipper. Somewhere midway through or so, I start paging forward, skimming large chunks of a book, then slow down to preview a part I’m not up to yet, then go back to where I left off and read forward. Or I page back and reread, when I think I missed the full impact. I read some passages deeply, noting style and texture, but read other passages for plot. Sometimes I skip words and sentences altogether, to cut to the chase.

But I read every word of all 686 pages of this epic novel. Why? The language. It doesn’t hurt that the story’s good—based on the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, and the political and gang intrigue in Jamaica surrounding and following it. Told from the points of view of a dozen or so characters, what got me and kept me was James’ ear for dialect--Jamaican, American, British, Latin-American, upper crust, street… and how he uses it to reveal the interior lives of his characters.

It’s a fantastic read. But be warned—it’s violent, and though one of the most compelling characters is female, the overall tenor is so male that three-quarters of the way through, I went out and bought four books by women writers to stack up by my bed like talismans (or taliswomans).

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