Book Review: The Sellout

  • 7 March, 2019

The Sellout (2016)

Paul Beatty

I couldn't put it down… is the go-to cliché for literature so I found it deeply ironic to catch myself in quite-literally this state at times. Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, the first third of this were perhaps the most engrossing and compulsive reading experience I've had since I started seriously reading.

This book opens in medias res within the Supreme Court of the United States where the narrator lights a spliff under the table. As the book unfolds, it is revealed that this very presence was humbly requested by the Court due to his attempt to reinstate black slavery and segregation in his local Los Angeles neighbourhood. Saying that, outlining the plot would be misleading here as it is far more the ad-hoc references, allusions and social commentary that hang from this that make this such an engrossing work.

The tranchant, deep and unreserved satire might perhaps be merely enough for an interesting book but where it got really fascinating to me (in a rather inside baseball manner) is how the the latter pages of the book somehow don't live up the first 100. That appears like a straight-up criticism but this flaw is actually part of this book's appeal to me — what actually changed in these latter parts? It's not overuse of the idiom or style and neither is it that it strays too far from the original tone or direction, but I cannot put my finger on why which has meant the book sticks to this day in my mind. I can almost, just almost, imagine a devilish author such as Paul deliberately crippling one's output for such an effect…

Now, one cannot unreservedly recommend this book. The subject matter itself, compounded by being dealt with in such an flippant manner will be unpenetrable to many and deeply offensive to others, but if you can see your way past that then you'll be sure to get something—whatever that may be—from this work.