Man Booker Prize goes to US author for first time as Scots crime writer misses out

Paul Beatty is the first American writer to win the Man Booker Prize.
Paul Beatty is the first American writer to win the Man Booker Prize.
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A Scottish novelist has lost out on Britain’s most prestigious literary prize - to the first ever American winner.

New York author Paul Beatty has claimed the Man Booker Prize two years after the eligibility rules were altered to allow US entries for the first time.

The Sellout is set in Paul Beatty's home city of Los Angeles.

The Sellout is set in Paul Beatty's home city of Los Angeles.

He was one of two American authors on the six-strong shortlist, which also featured Ayrshire writer Graeme Macrae Burnet, who was in contention with only his second novel.

The winning book, hailed by the Man Booker Prize judges as “a searing satire on race relations in contemporary America," is set in Los Angeles, where Beatty was born in 1962.

The 54-year-old landed his first book deal in 1990 after winning a “poetry slam” competition and released his debut novel, The White Bot Snuffle, six years later. The Sellout is his fourth novel.

The plot revolves around a narrator, who has spent his childhood as the subject in his father’s racially charged psychological studies, which he is told will lead to a memoir that will sold their family’s financial woes.

When his father his killed in a drive-by shooting and discovers there was never intended to be a memoir, he sets out to reassert his African American identity by reinstating slavery in his neighbourhood and segregating the local high school.

After collecting his award, Beatty acknowledged that The Sellout was a hard book - both to read and to write.

He said: "I don't want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life. But writing's given me a life.
"I'm just trying to create space for myself - hopefully that creates space for others."

Beatty’s publisher, Oneworld, has hailed The Sellout as “an outrageous and outrageously entertaining indictment of our time.”

Amanda Foreman, chair of the judging panel, said: “The Sellout is a novel for our times.

“A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humour disguises a radical seriousness.

“Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.”

Speaking ahead of the awards ceremony in London, Beatty insisted he did not see himself as a writer of satire.

He added: “I’m surprised that everybody keeps calling this a comic novel. I mean, I get it. But it’s an easy way not to talk about anything else.”

Burnet had been tipped as a favourite for the award for his crime thriller His Bloody Project, about the impact of a triple murder on a remote Highland crofting community.

Burnet spent several years trying to get his work published before being snapped up by the tiny Scottish crime imprint Contraband. He has previously worked as an English teacher around Europe before returning to Scotland to work with independent television companies.

His book was one of three contenders from small independent publishing houses to be in contention for the £50,000 prize, including The Sellout.