First Jamaican on Man Booker shortlist

Jamaica's Marlon James (above left) and United States' Hanya Yanagihara (above).
Jamaica's Marlon James (above) and United States' Hanya Yanagihara. PHOTOS: MAN BOOKER
Jamaica's Marlon James (above left) and United States' Hanya Yanagihara (above).
Jamaica's Marlon James and United States' Hanya Yanagihara (above).

LONDON • Marlon James became the first Jamaican shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for fiction on Tuesday, with a novel inspired by an assassination attempt on singer Bob Marley.

James, 44, was nominated for his third novel, A Brief History Of Seven Killings, which explores the attack on the Jamaican reggae legend and its aftermath in the Jamaica of the 1970s and early 1980s.

In an interview with The New York Times last year, James called himself a "post-postcolonial writer", who read Shakespeare and Jane Austen in school and also listened to Michael Jackson.

His novel is partly written in Jamaican patois.

The other books on the shortlist are: Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (Britain); The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria); The Year Of The Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (Britain); A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (United States); and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (US).

  • 2015 Booker Prize shortlist

  • 1. Marlon James (Jamaica): A Brief History Of Seven Killings

    2. Tom McCarthy (Britain): Satin Island

    3. Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria): The Fishermen

    4. Sunjeev Sahota (Britain): The Year Of The Runaways

    5. Anne Tyler (United States): A Spool Of Blue Thread

    6. Hanya Yanagihara (United States): A Little Life

A five-person panel headed by author Michael Wood narrowed down the field from 13 books that had been on the long list.

"Only on rare occasions does celebration come so closely aligned with regret," he said in a statement. "The regret of what we left out was tempered by the enormous excitement we have in presenting the six books on the shortlist."

Yanagihara's A Little Life is being tipped to win the prize, with bookmaker Ladbrokes offering odds as tight as 11/10.

The second novel by the Hawaiian-born writer follows the lives of four college friends, one of whom was abandoned by his mother and raised by paedophile monks.

Jonathan Ruppin, Web editor for Foyles bookshops, said: "The judges are evidently determined to reward books that do much more than simply tell a story, whether that be James' intricate non-linear narrative, Yanagihara's integration of so many well-realised characters or McCarthy's anthropological musings."

McCarthy is the only nominee to have been shortlisted before for the annual prize, one of the highest- profile awards in English-language literature.

Obioma, shortlisted for his debut novel, is the second Nigerian nominee, following 1991 winner Ben Okri. Obioma is the youngest nominee this year at 28 and Tyler, the oldest at 73.

There are no former winners among the nominees.

Until 2013, the Booker Prize was awarded to the best original full-length novel written in English by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe.

But last year, the field was widened to any novel originally written in English and published in Britain. The move was a bid to stamp the prize's authority as the English-speaking world's foremost literary award, crucially by opening it to the US.

The winner receives £50,000 (S$107,280) and the award all but guarantees an upsurge in book sales and worldwide readership.

Australian author Richard Flanagan won last year's prize with The Narrow Road To The Deep North. The book has sold almost 800,000 copies worldwide.

This is the 47th year of the prize, which began in 1969.

The winner will be revealed at a ceremony on Oct 13 at London's Guildhall.


• All six shortlisted books are available from Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'First Jamaican on Man Booker shortlist'. Print Edition | Subscribe