The Sellout

Tonight I finished The Sellout, last year’s Booker prizewinner, and as demented a book as I’ve read this year. I’m not sure what to make of it; is it this decade’s A Confederacy of Dunces ? (Without a dead author, that is.) I’m not even sure if, on some level, I really know what it’s about. 

It begins with the narrator under trial at the Supreme Court before going back to his childhood, raised by a terrific parody of a clinical psychologist. There’s a deft mishmash of Skinner boxes and antebellum monstrosity like the best ravings of a basement-dwelling internet troll, and as the book continues, a seemingly never ending spray of racism and profanity. I found myself laughing but not sure if I should be laughing. The hero reintroduces segregation, inadvertently acquires a slave, and grows citrus fruit in California – none of which are great moral choices. Then with twenty pages to go, Beatty shifts tack and has a go at skewering the whole concept of race relations in America, which is the point where you realise that as a middle aged middle class white British man living a life of privilege in Singapore, you really have little to bring to the conversation. 

It’s beautifully written; trouble is, quoting almost any of it out of context of the book would make me appear like the worst person on earth. And since I borrowed a physical copy from the Singapore Public Library, rather than read on the Kindle, it’s too dark in the room I write this in to copy out the more uplifting quotations. 

So, go read it. It’s an anomalous Booker winner, not because it’s short (288 pages) but because it’s not an utter miseryfest from start to finish. 


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