Becky Lees, Arnolfini Bookshop Assistant reviews 'The Sellout' by Paul Beatty as part of December, Arnolfini Book Club...
"The craft of Beatty’s writing shone through in this book – the way he chose particular phrases, descriptions and sentence structure all enhanced this clever and witty novel. We were all intrigued by the quote on the back from one of the Man Booker judges (Olivia Williams) ‘I was banned from reading this in bed because I was laughing so much’ – and whilst we weren’t all hysterical during this read, there were certainly moments that made us smile and chuckle and this was mostly owing to Beatty’s choice of words.
I, personally, struggled to find this novel relatable – I have grown up in more or less consistently white, British circles but this only heightened the importance of this read. While aware that racism is still affecting many peoples’ lives, I am not aware of the full extent of what this means. One aspect of the criteria used to decide the Man Booker winner was the writer’s ability to transport a reader, which is certainly something that this book does. The Sellout is set in a modern day America; he talks about how his characters celebrate the election of Obama as the first black president – a certain triumph for black Americans, but Beatty alludes to how far America has yet to go to be truly integrated and equal. (Seems almost too much of a coincidence how currently relevant these topics are in the light of recent world events.)
During our discussion, we compared the racial separation of people in this book, to perhaps what separates people in our own society – we talked about how we had noticed more signs of class division than racism in our lives; for example, wealth affecting where we shop and what we buy and that this matters to us – this is not true for all international communities. An important acknowledgement about our country that is necessary to be aware of – what a credit to Beatty, that his book not only raises the issues within his setting, but also encourages us to examine our own lives.
There is a lot of strength in the ending of this book. The open plotline encourages the reader to perhaps cast their own judgement over the main character’s actions – making us think about right vs. wrong and what we need from our justice systems. But overall, we are left with a message about our world that is crucial for us all to hear."
- Becky Lees