Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: Scoop

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scoop is perhaps the classic satire on the newspaper industry. Through a case of mistaken identity, naïve countryside sketch-writer William Boot finds himself dispatched to the East African republic of Ishmaelia (a thinly disguised Ethiopia) to cover the impending civil war for the Daily Beast. As he blunders around the capital city of Jacksonburg, he falls in with a mysterious English adventurer, a beautiful but flighty German-Polish-Romanian-stateless part-married near-widow, the corrupt but friendly local officials, an occasionally alcoholic Swede, not to mention the English press pack in all its disreputable glory.

Through ineptitude, innocence and ignorance he gets himself sacked and then lionised, before accidentally inciting a counter-revolution through the medium of absinthe.

Waugh's sardonic wit is at its sharpest, alleviating the mildly racist overtones (which are not out of the ordinary for a book written in the 1930s). He describes the fate of earlier European visitors to reclusive Ishmaelia thus:
They were eaten, every one. Some raw, others stewed and seasoned – according to local usage and the calendar (for the better sort of Ishmaelites have been Christian for many centuries and will not publicly eat human flesh, uncooked, in Lent, without special and costly dispensation from their bishop.
Waugh has the humorous touch of Wodehouse, but with a delightfully spiteful hauteur that reflects his personality. What is dislikeable about Waugh is partly what makes him so funny, while his impeccable sentence construction makes him delightfully readable.

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