Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

No surprise this won The Booker Prize. A book which makes the impossible plausible and in doing so, holds up the harshest of lights to illuminate our broken civilisation.

Dickens, California, where Sellout was born and raised by a terrifyingly obsessive father, has been wiped off the map, along with its self-respect. But he has an idea how to get it back.

By re-instituting slavery and segregation.

Beatty’s writing is shocking, sharp and erudite while his main character is laconic and stumbles into his heroic role almost accidentally. The novel’s landscape is peopled with a fabulous range of characters: Marpessa, the bus-driving love of Sellout’s life; Hominy Jenkins, ageing ex TV-star who makes Sellout his unwilling slavemaster; Foy Cheshire and the Dum Dum Donut intellectuals; plus the whole range of black cultural stereotypes which are not so much pierced as skewered.

The wit is bone-dry and the social intelligence brilliant. It’s hilariously, caustically funny, making you guffaw with a guilty look over your shoulder.
 “Like most black males raised in Los Angeles, I’m bilingual only to the extent that I can sexually harass women of all ethnicities in their native languages.”
There are some startling moments, such as when Sellout is coerced into doing a Show and Tell at the local school, to demonstrate the jobs available to young black teenagers. He chooses to castrate a calf. Or when young white people stage a demonstration demanding access to the segregated school, protesting their exclusion.

A book to make you actually laugh out loud, gasp and nod, but most of all, think.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge or Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe.

Avoid if you don’t like: Comedy as black as it gets, social satire.

Ideal accompaniments: Cantaloupe melon, a banana daiquiri and Billie Holiday Sings.

Available on Amazon 

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