How do you follow a Booker Prize win? When, after claiming the award in 2015 with the wonderful A Brief History of Seven Killings, the Jamaican author Marlon James declared that he was going to write a sort of African Lord of the Rings trilogy, I am sure I wasn’t the only one who greeted that announcement with scepticism. Four years later, the first book in the Dark Star Trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is out and I must say it is a reading experience like no other I’ve had in a long time. It is at once a pan-African fable, a magic realist thriller and historical fiction. Figures from African folk tales, like the Sasabonsam, the Ipundulu, the Sangoma and Anansi, populate the story. When the narrator is hired by a queen to bring back her consort from the land of the dead, it calls to mind a motif from Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard. But far from being merely a patchwork quilt of borrowed elements from African oral narratives, including copious Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba and Zulu proverbs, this book stands out as a postmodern collage carefully rooted in the griot tradition.
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'Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, once asked Isaiah Berlin who his ideal dinner guest would be. Without hesitation Berlin exclaimed, ‘William James!’'
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Hilary Mantel reviewing Margaret Atwood: a #BookerPrize double-header from the archive.
In Ali Smith's "Summer", 'the coronavirus pandemic has arrived. Lockdown happens too. There are allusions to Black Lives Matter, to online abuse and radicalisation, to things so recently news that it feels shocking to find them in a novel.'