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Summary

Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

Born in Dickens, Los Angeles, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in his father's racially charged psychological studies. He is told that his father's memoir will solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed, he discovers there never was a memoir.

Fuelled by despair, he sets out to right this wrong with the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

©2015 Paul Beatty (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"Outrageous, hilarious and profound.... It takes a whole other level of sheer audacity to expose atrocious things through the play of wit.... Juiciness stains every lovely page of Beatty’s mad, marvellous, toothsome book." ( Financial Times)
"There's satire and then there's satire, and without question Paul Beatty's caustic third novel, The Sellout, definitely falls into the latter category...brutally honest and very funny." ( Independent)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A clever, enjoyable satire on racism in todays USA

Any additional comments?

To be honest, I would never have read this novel if it had not been shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. But don't, whatever you do, be put off by the curse of the 'prize-nominated 'literary fiction' moniker. This is an absolute gem, to be savoured and read slowly, for the pleasure of clever, witty, thought-provoking prose and a plethora ( a word highlighted in the novel) of bittersweet and some downright nasty characters. The narration is excellent and the plot is well developed taking the notion of post-modern slavery/racism and running with it, in all sorts of directions. I'm so glad I listened and I will listen to it again.

28 of 33 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Brilliant and hilarious.

Funny, witty, biting and entertaining as hell. Mississippi Goddamn meets Donald Barthelme and I don't even know what else. A highly enjoyable story and a crazy good narration.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A hilarious must-listen for the ages

Genuinely one of the funniest things I have ever listened to, and all wrapped up in Booker-winning package of vicious satire and a rollercoaster history of racial tensions in America. There are so, so many laugh out loud moments, by my highlight was the main protagonist’s memory of his father’s open mic ‘comedy’ routine – heavy on black heritage but almost completely void of humour – which ends with a long and meticulously detailed set of verbal references and footnotes that go on longer than the act itself.

‘Mr. Me’ himself is a truly unique creation – a laid back African American, accidental provocateur, terrible lover and dedicated stoner, whose internal monologue features a gripping commentary on the intertwining histories of his country, race and family. Oh, and he is on trial at the US Supreme Court, charged with reintroducing slavery and racial segregation. It’s impossible to describe: just listen!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Cian
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • 22-04-17

Well written but a little disappointing

Before reading this book, I knew only a few things about it. I know it won the Booker prize and was the first American novel to do so. I had also been given a gist of the story that turned out to be highly misleading. The most common way I heard it described was that it was about a black man who runs a watermelon and weed farm and who brings back slavery to run it, which leads to him going to the supreme court to defend his case, and that the entire thing was a racial satire. While all of that is technically true, it's not in any way what the story is really about and is more a series of minor details.

The protagonist of the book is a black man and his occupation is being a farmer of watermelons and weed (which he is very good at) but the story is about his entire life, not about the farm. A large portion covers his childhood in the fictional town of Dickens (somewhere in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and could be considered analogous to places like Compton or Watts) with his well-educated, black supremacist father. For the most part, the plot is just the day-to-day life of the comical cast of characters. The part about the protagonist bringing back slavery isn't really true. He owns one slave, but it's a person who wants to be a slave and doesn't do any work. The Supreme Court segments are exclusively at the start and end of the book and there are no court battles or arguments on the subject.

I do think the book was funny. It's definitely got some pretty original takes on the idea of race in America that don't fall squarely into what anyone could call "liberal" or "conservative" and the lead character is quite idiosyncratic. He's also highly skeptical and cynical of pretty much everyone around him, and a lot of the humour comes from his sardonic opinions on other characters, which were always enjoyable.

I feel like I might have enjoyed this more if I had different expectations on what the story was about, so I'm hoping to dispel these common misleading descriptors for anyone else. Just be aware that there is little in the way of plot and that it's a story first and foremost about its characters and you'll probably enjoy it a lot more.

I do have to commend the reader though, who I thought did an excellent job. The narration is from the point of view of the central character and I really felt like he brought that character to life in his performance.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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An interesting book

Difficult to get into at first as it is framed in a unique way and many of the cultural reference points are not known that well outside the urban USA.
But the use of language and ideas is excellent.
The performance was excellent and helped immensely with understanding. Actually reading this as text would have been more difficult.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Self-absorbed and rambling with no real focus

This was a chore from start to finish. Some fascinating points about race in America were addressed but sadly in a convoluted and demented way. The absurdist / surreal approach used to tell the story was at once both unfocused and unnecessarily longwinded.

19 of 25 people found this review helpful

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the truth about the American dream at last

brilliant, funny, cutting, the truth. great read (listen) about the real America, no holds barred, in an amusing story that says it as it is. everyone who feels America is a super power should listen to this - the truth.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Sorry

Writing is super creative and funny but story is quite boring - and yes I get that it's satire. Just not great. Couldn't wait for it to be over, but occasional hilarious lines keep it going, barely.

15 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Does not work too well as an audiobook

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Well, I wanted to read it and now I have. But apart from a few good laughs I cannot say it enriched me very much (but perhaps I am not the ideal audience for this book).

If you’ve listened to books by Paul Beatty before, how does this one compare?

No.

What does Prentice Onayemi bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

He has the perfect voice to be the main character: fast, witty, arrogant and careless. It just

Was The Sellout worth the listening time?

see question 1

Any additional comments?

It somehow did not work for me as an audiobook. It is clearly very well written and perhaps with a hard copy I could have followed the storyline better, but now I felt lost quite often and at the same time had the feeling that nothing much was happening...as if it was a collection of anecdotes rather than a clear story (which I like audiobooks to be).

10 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Excellent

Well worth a read. It made me laugh and it made me think of how crazy this world is.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 28-08-17

Least popular book group choice in twenty years.

Would you try another book from Paul Beatty and/or Prentice Onayemi?

Maybe.

What was most disappointing about Paul Beatty’s story?

A clever idea, perhaps a bit too clever. This book obviously convinced the MBP judges but not us.

What does Prentice Onayemi bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Authenticity.

Any additional comments?

Reading the Sellout confirms our decision never again to automatically go with a popular prize winner. I read two thirds (increasingly reluctantly) and very much wanted to finish the book but I could not read beyond the calf story in the playground, I had had enough. When we discussed the book at our meeting, it was reassuring to hear I hadn't missed anything significant. Living outside the USA, maybe we missed the point. My reading time is too precious for this style of book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • wfdTamar
  • 26-11-16

Slim pickin's Man Booker year if this won

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Boy, it must have been a rubbish year if this won the Man Booker prize. I found it a precocious, overly wordy, mish mash of thrown together ideas that goes nowhere. The kind of thing that your neighbours young daughter would bring home and you'd have to force yourself to say, "that's amazing honey", through gritted teeth. Or a first year uni students essay chock full of every idea and clever retort they'd learnt or heard. Trying too hard to impress. I got - what I thought was a third of the way through - when it suddenly ended! I thought I must have stopped the recording by mistake, but no, it just stops. Maybe Paul has been on too much of the weed he obviously thinks is so cool. Poor structure, no attempt at resolution of anything. Just a book full of oh so smart remarks.

Did Prentice Onayemi do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

Admittedly a difficult book to read out loud. I did find all the mofo-ing and 'attitude' got in the way of the telling. As well as the ridiculously overly wordy nature of the book. Maybe it would work better read, rather than read out loud.

Any additional comments?

Maybe it just wasn't my cup of tea, not in the US (let alone L.A.). Some people obviously like it - but not me. I found the way it was written grating.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful