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Wednesday 2 November 2016

Review: Paul Beatty, The Sellout

I bought this book from the Waterstone's table of novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize, read it during a week working in Germany, and by the time I got home it had won the Prize.

Novels deal with things at least some of which we will not be familiar with and sometimes will be completely ignorant of. But we manage, sometimes only partially. I don't think I understood everything in Paul Beatty's book and though I often smiled or occasionally laughed I am certain I did not get all the gags. So I am not a good judge of the book. That said, I have doubts about it which relate to other aspects than the gags I didn't get.

I felt the author was trying too hard, like a stand-up comedian on a bad night. I felt the book lacked structure, trying to do too many things and not always sure what those things were even though all the reviewers who are all over my copy are completely sure.* I felt that as it progresses it actually runs out of steam - the Supreme Court is not a climax but just a continuation. At just one point (page 266) did the book really move me in a short passage I felt could have owed something to Brecht.

I concede that this is a Minority Report. Time will tell. Go through the back list of Booker Prize winners and there are plenty there you will struggle to recognise - Was that the book about ...?  - and, if you try to read those forgotten books, you will struggle.

* It amused me that The Guardian was there on the  cover. If Paul Beatty had submitted an extract from this book for publication to that Sunday School newspaper, I am 100% sure it would have either not replied or would have set one of its endless supply of dire columnists onto him.

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