Date finished: April 4th 2017
I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado, or even necessarily a fan of pre-1945 works, and my experience with them is limited at best. Humour especially has a tendency to date in novels, as I found out when I waded through the turgid and insipid tome that was Three Men in a Boat. So I naturally approached famed English writer Evelyn Waugh with some trepidation. It’s fair to say, he passed the test.
Scoop tells the story of William Boot, a mild-mannered nature columnist who, through a series of mishaps, is mistakenly sent to the African nation of Ishmaelia as a foreign correspondent to report back on what may soon become a civil war between fascists and communists in a struggle to control the nation. Boot finds himself a stranger in a strange land, unable to understand his job or the mad goings-on of a country in turmoil. He hopes to muddle through, but he never expects to land the scoop all the journalists have been vying for.
Scoop is labelled a satire of Fleet Street journalism, but much of it operates as a satire of colonialism and 1930s politics. A significant portion of the novel dedicates itself to the foibles of trying to navigate a small African nation that has been waywardly influenced by numerous western powers, and where the prevailing politics can change between breakfast and lunch. In a way, it felt strangely relevant to current politics – the polarised extremes of politics, the baffled middle class, the British arrogance. It’s easy for this sort of comic novel to date badly, but Waugh weathers the decades well and still manages to churn out some genuinely funny moments. Not of all of the comedy-of-errors stuff stands the test of time, but Waugh’s narrative powers remain undiminished.
At turns funny, knowing, and never dull, Scoop is a nice middling book for a lazy couple of afternoons – entertaining, enjoyable, not entirely memorable, but does the job for the duration, and is testament to the longevity of Waugh’s work.