Coming up this Wednesday to the Spring Literary Festival is Marlon James, the critically-acclaimed author who is perhaps best known for his third novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, which won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. The author’s newest novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf was released on 5th February by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Books USA. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is James’s much-anticipated fourth novel and his first forage into fantasy. It tells the story of Tracker, the titular “Red Wolf” who is given the mission of locating a lost boy, along with a band of fellow hunters, one of whom is a mysterious shape shifting man-leopard.
James’s novel, reportedly set to be the first in a trilogy (another first for the author) is influenced by African history and mythology, blended with the Booker Prize-winner’s unique style and use of themes. Although this change in genre may surprise some, it is not unlike James to experiment with new settings for his novels. Of his previous works, John Crow’s Devil explores faith in a remote Jamaican village in 1957, The Book of Night Women looks at physical and spiritual freedom within the context of slavery in a late-eighteenth century Jamaican sugar plantation, and A Brief History of Seven Killings follows a range of characters in the years leading up to the assasination-attempt on Bob Marley in 1976.
If his choice of settings seems somewhat haphazard and chaotic, the same cannot be said for James’s themes. All of his books have a focus on history, specifically how we remember our pasts, or how we try to forget them. In an interview at Macalester University, James stated that his interest lies in “what people stay silent about, and why”. This is evident in all of his novels, especially Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which sees its protagonist slowly start to question the motives behind his quest: Where did the lost boy go, and why has he been gone so long?
This demonstrates James’s knack of revisiting places or subjects that others may choose to leave undisturbed, not only in his writing, but also in his personal life. Born and raised in Jamaica, the novelist chose to leave the country as a young adult, in part to pursue a career in academia in the United States (he currently teaches English and creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota), but also due to the homophobia and other political issues rampant in Jamaica. Regardless, he chooses to revisit the country and its history in much of his writing, showing us that the past truly is inescapable.
Marlon James will be in conversation with Tom Benn on Wednesday 27th February at 7pm in Lecture Theatre 1.