The Sellout

Sell Out

In The Big Bang Theory Sheldon Cooper presents an internet show called Fun With Flags. The Sellout by Paul Beatty, could be called Fun With Racism, with a central character who, like Sheldon, is more than a little gauche when it comes to normal social conventions. And in not getting conventions, both Sheldon and Me – as Paul Beatty’s narrator is called – often provide us with a unique insight into the bizarre nature of human interaction.

Of course Sheldon often gets into trouble for his naïveté; and the same is true of Me. This book is full of society’s most taboo subjects, their inconsistencies innocently pulled apart. Writing The Sell Out must have felt like walking a fraying tight rope. Setting out to write a review was similarly worrysome. It felt as though I was taking my life in my hands just naming a file “The Sellout Review” on my iPad.

But I suppose that’s the sign of an interesting book. And it is interesting, doing what good books do, exploring all the messy space left behind by neat scientific theories, or tidy political correctness of all kinds.

As Me says of his late psychology professor father:

“If there is a heaven worth the effort that people make to get there, then I hope for my father’s sake there’s a celestial psychology journal. One that publishes the results of failed experiments, because acknowledging unsubstantiated theories and negative results is just as important as publishing studies proving red wine is the cure-all we’d always pretended it was.”

Admittedly the book itself is messy. The plot can hardly be described as tight, seeming to be about trying to establish a segregated school, or finding lost copies of enjoyable but racist cartoons. Towards the end I did find my attention wandering as far as plot was concerned. I was just hopping from one amusing social observation to another.

Nevertheless this is a good book, and I would recommend it. It’s not a tidy work of social theory, but as Kierkagaard said – on a promotional poster I noticed in Waterstones recently:

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

The Sellout reminds us that novels are not really about problem solving, but reality experiencing and sharing

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