The Sellout by Paul Beatty


Paul Beatty’s The Sellout begins with the titular character, a young black man from an “agrarian ghetto” near LA,  on trial before the US Supreme Court for reinstating slavery and segregation in his community. What ensues is the story of how he got there.

Wow. Just wow. Why hadn’t I heard of Paul Beatty before? This might not only be my favourite Booker winner of the past few years but one of my favourite of all time. Insanely intellectual and uproariously funny. Seriously guys, I lol’ed, several times. See below:

“ one knows anything definitive about Hitler other than he was the quintessential asshole, humourless, and a frustrated artist, though you could say that about almost anyone.” (pg. 148)

This is hard and fast satire right off the bat – immensely topical so even if you’ve never been to the States you can recognise the caricatured world that Beatty brings into being. I’m not surprised to see this as the first Booker winner from the US.

This is by no means an easy read – and I’m not just talking about subject matter. I was barely able to process one idea before Beatty moved on to the next. You have to stay sharp to get the most out of this one. I’ll probably need to re-read it at least one more time to get the whole picture. But don’t let that turn you off. Please please please read this one.




3 thoughts on “The Sellout by Paul Beatty

  1. Pingback: My Ranking for the Booker Shortlist 2016 | Musings From A(Broad)

  2. Hello Tristen, I gave this a read recently and like you really enjoyed it on many levels. You’re probably surprised, given my avowed dislike for surrealist plots and liking for detailed (invariably masculine) character development. So, I essentially enjoyed, enjoying something that I thought would struggle with / not enjoy.

    From this I have to ask myself the question, why? I suppose the lack of plot is made up for by the relentless pace of activity and observation which is achievable when a surrealist novel has a first person narrator. The humour and satire is of course there on every page: laughter is enjoyable, full stop. Lastly, I also think this novel is an incrediable achievement because it introduces dozens of two dimensional characters that don’t grow boring or hackneyed, or feel too stereotypical. They continue to enable the development or exposition of the narrator’s feelings and observations without becoming stale.

    In combination with the above, I found the novel very thought provoking and its style ensured that at no point did the novel feel like it was preaching to you. For me (and I don’t think this is contentious) the main theme of the novel is that political equality is not real equality. In a round about way the novel then tries to answer the question of what is equality, and is equality important? Then, does equality require the surrender or nullification (to a large extent) of identity? Which beg’s the question, are some identities (ethinc groups) expected to give up their identity more than others? This idea is taken up most by the narrator’s committment to putting Dickens back on the map, and his ongoing love for his outdated agrarian way of life. But is his identity racial or more ‘working class’? But if equality means that identity is no longer really relevant, why are people who aspire to ‘white’ or ‘black’ culture so tragic (something that much of the humour in the book is drawn from)? As the (black) judge says, “‘I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, red, green, or pink.’ We’ve all said it. Posited it as proof of our nonprejudicial ways, but if you painted anyone one of us purple or green, we’d be mad as hell.”

    Identity does matter, and the novel underlines the problem that the idea of a harmonious society free from prejudice seems at best a long way off, and at worst a naive illusion. It’s a depressing note to end on, but its an important point to make in a world where prejudice and discrimination (in its subtlest forms) continues fairly unabated since the last century.

    The novel gets 8/10 – which is very high (for me). On a side note I also read “All that man is” and was hugely underwhelmed. Men are generally quite self-centred and rubbish, but you don’t have to labour the the same point 15 times across 15 short stories!!! I’m bemused the book got on to the short list in the first place.



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