The Marvellous Equations of the Dread: A Novel in Bass Riddim

Marcia Douglas

Book cover

This is a really cool experimental novel–some of the most interesting fantasy I’ve read this year (although it is not marketed as such). It follows the death of Bob Marley, his ascendancy into Rastafarian heaven, and his decision to return to earth in the body of a homeless man. He remains on earth for seven days, each separated from the last by many years of earth-time. There is a strong musical theme, as you might expect from the title and the plot, with the afterlife/underworld being described as “the dub side,” etc.

The book incorporates a lot of elements of Rastafarianism, but Douglas doesn’t spell most things out–so it piqued my interest to do some outside reading to learn the background. I loved how Douglas worked in Haile Selassie as a character; how Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line plays an important role in the plot; and how Douglas seasons the text with many uniquely Rastafarian terms (“I&I”, “higherstanding”, etc.). I also thought Douglas did a great job of conveying lyrical Jamaican speech patterns to the point where I felt I could hear the characters speaking, but without resorting to cliched altered spellings such as “mon” (which I feel like would unnecessarily normalize the American accent–after all, a Jamaican spells the word the same way!). Finally, I appreciated Douglas’s foregrounding of strong female characters, since (based on my brief research) it seems that Rastafarian culture has often been criticized for its patriarchal nature.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars