Marlon James aims for truth though fantasy in novel likened to ‘Game of Thrones’

SHARE Marlon James aims for truth though fantasy in novel likened to ‘Game of Thrones’
i74bxphufs8lmp2sneopi6l.jpg

Marlon James when his book “A Brief History of Seven Killings” won the 2015 Booker Prize for Fiction. His new book “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is a fantasy novel that’s been compared to the “Game of Thrones” series. | AP

Author of four novels, notably the Booker Prize-winning “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” Marlon James has made an art of “finding what would rather stay lost,” as he writes in his new work, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf.”

James, 48, has unearthed monsters everywhere — from a colonial era plantation to the house of Bob Marley. His latest work is a fantastical vision of ancient Africa that’s been likened to “Game of Thrones” and is the first of a planned “Dark Star” trilogy.

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf” (Riverhead Books, $30) features a hunter for hire named Tracker, whose pursuit of a missing boy spreads out over 600 pages of war, sex, shape-shifting and plotting in a landscape of monsters and witches and ever-taller tales.

The novel’s digressive path mirrors the writing of it. A James novel is a work in progress to the very end. He might write hundreds of pages before one character’s voice so compels him that he starts over.

For “A Brief History,” he says, the first words he wrote ended up on page 458. For “Black Leopard,” he had planned a story of the fall of a royal house and its mad queen. But once he “stumbled” upon the character he came to call “Tracker,” a new narrative was born.

“Not every story appears to you ‘A to Z,’ ” he says. “Sometimes, Q shows up first.”

James debuted with “John Crow’s Devil,” a 200-page parable about rival ministers in a 1950s Jamaican village. His second was the 400-page slave story “The Book of Night Women,” followed by “A Brief History,” his 700-page panorama of the attempted 1976 assassination of Marley.

James, a Kingston native who now divides his time between Brooklyn and Minneapolis, had tried to complete other novels before “John Crow’s Devil,” which was rejected by dozens of publishers before being published by Akashic Books. He remembers starting “Book of Night Women” in the third person(“Queen’s English,” he says) but found it “too stilted.” The novel’s eventual narrator, the child of a conflicted Jamaican slave named Lilith, had been “hiding out” in a previous chapter.

Growing up, James happily absorbed the Shakespeare plays and other classics his teachers required, but no one could talk him out of his love for the novels of Jackie Collins. Even today, he might spend his spare time reading Thomas Aquinas or comic books.

“I resisted growing for a very long time,” he says. “I don’t think writers should grow up. You should grow up in terms of understanding people, especially women. But I think, in terms of imagination, you should never grow up. I always resented that it was a sign of maturity that I had to let go of fairies and fairy tales.”

The Latest
The Cubs’ last home stand sent mixed messages.
Lawyers for the business and the city have been battling in an administrative court for more than a year.
Mary Richardson-Lowry, a teacher’s daughter, served as Chicago building commissioner, then school board president under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Now, she is Mayor Brandon Johnson’s choice for one of the most trusted and sensitive positions in city government.
Chuck Valauskas fell victim to one of the falcons last Thursday. He is recovering from a 1-inch gash on his head. A family has made its nest on a Wacker Drive high-rise, and the momma is protective of her young, an expert says.
NHL
Kane, 34, has been dealing with a nagging hip injury that hampered him over the past year with the Blackhawks and then down the stretch and in the playoffs with the New York Rangers.