'The Sellout' by Paul Beatty is named winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The Sellout is published by small independent publisher Oneworld, who had their first win in 2015 with Marlon James’ 'A Brief History of Seven Killings'.
The 54-year-old New York resident, born in Los Angeles, is the first American author to win the prize in its 48-year history. US authors became eligible in 2014. The 2016 shortlist included two British, two US, one Canadian and one British-Canadian writer.
'The Sellout' is a searing satire on race relations in contemporary America. 'The Sellout' is described by The New York Times as a ‘metaphorical multicultural pot almost too hot to touch’, whilst the Wall Street Journal called it a ‘Swiftian satire of the highest order. Like someone shouting fire in a crowded theatre, Mr. Beatty has whispered “Racism” in a postracial world.’
The book is narrated by African-American ‘Bonbon’, a resident of the run-down town of Dickens in Los Angeles county, which has been removed from the map to save California from embarrassment. Bonbon is being tried in the Supreme Court for attempting to reinstitute slavery and segregation in the local high school as means of bringing about civic order. What follows is a retrospective of this whirlwind scheme, populated by cartoonish characters who serve to parody racial stereotypes. The framework of institutional racism and the unjust shooting of Bonbon’s father at the hands of police are particularly topical.
Though Beatty cites satirists Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut as formative influences, he remarked to The Paris Review that he was ‘surprised that everybody keeps calling this a comic novel… I’m not sure how I define it.’
In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, Beatty also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.
This is the third year that the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, the prize was open only to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. The 2016 shortlist included two British, two US, one Canadian and one British-Canadian writer.
Source: press release