And the Winner Is…

In case you haven’t already heard, the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2016 is

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

selloutHe’s the first American winner of the Booker Prize, for which I must express a modicum of pride. Yet I’m gobsmacked by the judges’ decision. Do you know that lovely bit of British slang? It means, roughly, astounded. You see, I would have placed The Sellout fifth out of six in terms of its likelihood of winning (ahead of only Eileen).

When I reviewed it for Shiny New Books back in early June, I expressed my doubts that this outrageous racial satire would strike a chord in Britain as it had in the States. It’s a zany, irreverent take on racial politics in America today, crammed with old stereotypes of African-Americans. For me, the satire wore thin and I yearned for more of an introspective Bildungsroman. But it’s clear that, with police shootings of black men in America a seemingly daily news phenomenon, the Booker judges chose a timely and incisive winner.

Here’s a taste of the sort of audacious lines the book is chock-full of:

“I understand now that the only time black people don’t feel guilty is when we’ve actually done something wrong, because that relieves us of the cognitive dissonance of being black and innocent, and in a way the prospect of going to jail becomes a relief.”

“When a white bitch got problems, she’s a damsel in distress! When a black bitch got problems, she’s a welfare cheat and a burden on society. How come you never see any black damsels? Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your weave!”

Amid the laughs, you still get a sense of how important it is to Beatty that race remain a topic for public discussion. An exchange the narrator has with a police officer could just as easily describe the author’s purpose:

“It’s illegal to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre, right?”

“It is.”

“Well, I’ve whispered ‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.”

No whisper, this, but a brazen shout.

Did the panel get it right this year?

14 responses

  1. I’ll be interested to read this. He was on the Today programme just now, and surprisingly uncomfortable to be there. I don’t think he’s going to be doing the rounds of chat shows and so on. And none the worse for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if he feels a bit embarrassed to be the ‘face of America’ as the first American winner!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A surprise, alright.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m actually now very excited to read this – I was expecting not to be keen on it at all, but the increased coverage as a result of the win is making it grow on me. And Oneworld must be over the moon, given their win last year too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true — two years in a row is quite a feat!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I watched his acceptance speech last night and he was genuinely overwhelmed – none of that false modesty you get with Oscar winners. He’ going to get lots of experience at interviews in coming months. His win was a surprise indeed – i was rooting for Madeleine Thien.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, she’s just won a different major award in Canada and is up for a few more, so that’s some consolation.


  5. I’ve not read this. I have a copy from NetGalley but I’m working my way through the whole longlist. I wanted His Bloody Project to win but would have settled for Do Not Say We Have Nothing which also blew me away. I was surprised this won. I really want to read it now. I really liked how genuine he came across.


    1. It’s an extremely varied shortlist. I enjoyed all six to an extent. Like you, I had a special fondness for His Bloody Project, but I couldn’t see it winning.


  6. I have no opinion on this since I haven’t read it. But I think I would like to. I worry that the satire would also wear thin on me after a while, too. But maybe I’ll love it.
    The biggest thing that keeps me from putting this high on my list of priorities is just that it seems very male, and I tend to choose books that are the opposite or at least somewhere in the middle.


    1. That’s an interesting comment. Although there are a few female characters, they are certainly minor ones. You definitely wouldn’t want to read All That Man Is 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not that I *avoid* male dominated books – I just don’t gravitate toward them as much, if that makes sense. 🙂


    2. I can completely understand that!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am surprised by this win, but since I haven’t read any of the books that were on the shortlist, I can’t say whether I agree with the decision or not. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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