International desk – Paul Beatty, an American writer, has won the Man Booker Prize for a caustic satire on US racial politics that judges said put him up there with Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift.
Beatty is the first American writer to win the prize.
The 54-year-old Los Angeles-born writer won for The Sellout, a laugh-out-loud novel whose main character wants to assert his African American identity by, outrageously and transgressively, bringing back slavery and segregation, according to British newspaper Guardian.
Beatty has admitted readers might find it a difficult book to digest but the historian Amanda Foreman, who chaired this year’s judging panel, said that was no bad thing.
“Fiction should not be comfortable,” Foreman said. “The truth is rarely pretty and this is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon … that is why the novel works.
“While you’re being nailed, you’re being tickled. It is highwire act which he pulls off with tremendous verve and energy and confidence. He never once lets up or pulls his punches. This is somebody writing at the top of their game.”
Foreman called it a “novel for our times”, particularly in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The Sellout is one of those very rare books: which is able to take satire, which is a very difficult subject and not always done well, and plunges it into the heart of contemporary American society
“It manages to eviscerate every social taboo and politically correct nuance, every sacred cow. While making us laugh, it also makes us wince. It is both funny and painful at the same time.”
The £50,000 win, announced at a black tie dinner at London’s Guildhall, represented a particular success for Beatty’s publisher Oneworld, a small independent that also represented last year’s winner Marlon James and his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings.
Beatty was overcome by emotion as he accepted the award. He told the audience: “I don’t want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life … but writing has given me a life.”
At a short press conference afterwards he said winning meant a lot, that he was as “happy as hell”. He did not call his book a satire, he said, but was happy for it be described that way.
The book may be set for success across the world, but Beatty, who said he was told by one of his college professors that he would never be a success as a writer, said it was not something he enjoyed.
“I don’t like writing. It’s hard. You’ve got to sit down … I’m a perfectionist, I guess, and I get easily disgruntled and discouraged with what I’m doing. I am really hard with myself and I tend to sabotage myself, but when I’m writing I try not to do that, I try to be in the moment, to be confident.”
Anyone offended by early Richard Pryor might think twice about reading The Sellout. There is lots of swearing and frequent use of the n-word.
But Beatty says in the book that being offended is not an emotion. “That’s his answer to the readers and I would say the same,” Foreman was quoted to have said by The Guardian.