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Paul Beatty is serious about satire

Paul Beatty is serious about satire

Paul Beatty's Man Booker-winning The Sellout is regularly described as a satire. Not, however, by Beatty himself. Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival he revealed his difficulties with the word: ‘You can just hide behind that word. You can say something is a satire, okay, but what does that really mean? It’s an easy word to just hide behind and not have to really deal with or confront, whether, as a reader or as a reviewer, one is implicated or not.’ Beatty doesn't want to provide cop-outs for either himself as a writer or for his readers: ‘I had one student – the guy’s a fantastic writer – whenever he says something that makes people really uncomfortable with, he’ll go like you know, that’s all satirical, as an excuse, y’know what I mean. You know, I don’t want the book to be that.’

Also speaking at Jaipur was Richard Flanagan, 2014 Man Booker winner, who revealed a very unusual – and uncomplimentary – response from one reader to The Narrow Road to the Deep North. ‘I had a man chase me up a street in Sydney, saying you’re ugly and bald.’ Maybe the disgruntled reader was being satirical. Flanagan admitted though that he is indeed bald.

            The state of his pate aside, asked if he thought books had a future in an increasingly technological age, he responded: ‘Books are slow, but they can speak truth to power, like a few things can. Moby Dick sold 2,000 copies in the first 60 years. That’s not a great number. Which proves that you simply can’t measure the influence of literature in book sales. Books are more resilient than we imagine. They will endure.’

Flanagan's point shows that it is worth remembering once in a while that although authors – especially Man Booker ones – appear to come trailing clouds of glory the economic reality of the writing business is anything but celestial. The latest figures for the Public Lending Right (PLR) have just been released showing what authors earn every time one of their books is borrowed from a public library. The Rate Per Loan is 7.82 pence which, you might think, could tot up to something substantial. Then comes the rather chilling bit: ‘22,202 authors will receive a payment of between £1 and £6,600 including 205 authors who will receive the maximum payment of £6,600.’ If £6,600 is the maximum payment, going to the likes of James Patterson, Lee Child and Paula Hawkins, imagine the paltry sums going to deserving authors whose books don't sell by the bucket-load. A hundred pounds here and there won't keep most novelists in ink for their printer.

Hisham Matar, the Libyan writer who was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2006 with In the Country of Men, has just won France's prestigious Prix du Livre Etranger  – Foreign Book Prize – for The Return, his memoir recounting his searches for his father who was abducted by Colonel Gaddafi 22 years previously when Matar was just 19: Matar never saw his father again. The Return is proving to be a bit of a prize magnet, it has already been shortlisted for last year's Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, and has picked up the Biographers' Club First Biography prize.