The second book in my Booker Prize Reading Challenge is The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This book is set in ‘Dickens’, a farmland area just outside of Los Angeles. A man is recalling his childhood of growing up under a very peculiar father who carries out experiments on him and the wonderfully colourful people that he knows.
The only problem is that he is going to embark on something which is so profoundly against popular culture and society that he is not just going to be a sellout but the ridicule and laughing stock of America.
I cannot give away too much about this book but it is at times hysterically funny – I’ve had quite a few laugh out loud moments on the tube home. It leads me to think that Beatty could have had a career as a stand-up comic and his political monologues are very prescient, almost Doug Stanhope. The characters are really well drawn, also very very funny but people who you could sympathise with, especially the main character. The problem with this book (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t quite grab your attention the whole way through.
I think it is a very original piece of work and it’s probably the funniest book that I have read.
A considerably older woman (Eileen) is looking back on her life to when she was a 24 year old. Living in ‘X-ville’ with her drunken and disturbed father and without a Mum she has a very restricted life of a job she really can’t stand, people who she doesn’t really want to work with. The odd crush on the security guard keeps her going. That is until a new colleague, Rebecca turns up and breathes new life into her. Their friendship leads to an even darker place and Eileen has some radical decisions to make.
This is a deeply unsettling book but it was so compelling that I could not put it down. The microcosm of Eileen’s young life is fascinating and her inner world is fuelled by awkwardness, self-loathing and flights of fantasy. You cannot help but cringe in parts, but that’s down to Moshfegh’s brilliant writing. I am not going to spoil the ending but it is seismic. Think of works by Patricia Highsmith and Donna Tartt and you are getting close.
So thus far it is my favourite on the shortlist as it feels like a complete novel – it is chilling, diabolical and her descriptions of the landscape make you feel as if you are living inside it. Brilliant.