Man Booker’s American Sellout

October 25, 2016 at 10:19 pm Leave a comment

Paul Beatty has won the 2016 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sellout – becoming the first American to win the prize, which was only open to writers from Commonwealth countries (and the Republic of Ireland) until the rules were changed in 2014.

Remarkably it gives small independent publisher Oneworld their second consecutive Booker Prize triumph.

The Sellout is his fourth novel, following The White Boy Shuffle (1996), Tuff (2000), and Slumberland (2008). It is set in a ghetto of Los Angeles called Dickens that has been removed from the map – a state of affairs a black man called Me decides to correct, only to find himself in the Supreme Court charged with violating the Thirteenth Amendment by “owning a slave” and reintroducing segregation.

Even though I stood to win a few bob if Madeleine Thien won the prize, I am delighted the judges made such a daring choice. It’s always good to see prize judges rewarding contemporary, political, humorous books, because there aren’t enough of them. And as Amanda Foreman (the chair of this year’s judges) said at the awards ceremony in London’s Guildhall, The Sellout is “painfully funny”. In her speech she also quoted fantasy author Ursula Le Guin: “the imagination is truly the enemy of bigotry and dogma.

Paul Beatty is clearly a lovely guy as well as a brilliant writer. He is a good choice for the first American winner of the prize – worth £50,000 (which, despite the fall in value of sterling is still worth at least as many dollars as there are n-words in his book…well, just about.)

The judges (Amanda Foreman, Olivia Williams, David Harsent, Abdulrazak Gurnah and Jon Day) read 155 novels and chose a shortlist of six books in which almost all the narrators are untrustworthy, saying they were looking for books that “take risks with language and form”, and that “writers work best when they are exploring at the outer limits of what is traditional, acceptable or conventional.

There is some consolation for Madeleine Thien, because Do Not Say We Have Nothing has just been awarded the Canadian Governor-General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction. The jury for that award describing it as “an elegant, nuanced and perfectly realized novel that, fugue-like, presents the lives of individuals, collectives, and generations caught in the complexities of history.

I will leave you with this recurring bit of trivia: ten of the last eighteen Booker prizes have been won by the shortlisted author whose name came first alphabetically. Definitely worth checking out the new books by Naomi Alderman and Sebastian Barry then.

The fun, but not very predictive, list of runners and riders for next year’s Man Booker prize is up-and-running at:

www.goodreads.com/list/show/104929.Man_Booker_Prize_Eligible_2017

Sadly it looks like GoodReads is trying to bury Listopia, so it may not be as busy as it has been in recent years.

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The 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction – Shortlist RIP John Berger

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