by Evelyn Waugh
Understanding the importance of getting the best man to cover the impending civil war in the small African nation of Ishmaelia, Lord Copper, owner of the Daily Beast newspaper, follows the advice of a dinner companion to enlist novelist John Boot to go. Miscommunication and misunderstanding causes his staff to send the newspaper’s country living columnist, William Boot, instead. Scoop follows the naive “journalist” as he tries to learn the ropes in a foreign place, at great distress and expense to his employer.
Let me make clear that Scoop was the funniest thing I read in quite some time. Waugh wrote himself a tight little plot and moves it forward with irreverent narration, silly––to me, Wodehousian––dialogue, and such quick jokes that I occasionally read past by a few paragraphs before they dawned on me. And I’m under the impression––given by none other than Christopher Hitchens in an introduction written for one edition of the book, that I was exposed to within his collection of essays––that Scoop is important for its unflinching portrayal of the realities of the inner workings of the press. I’m inclined to believe him, especially after also reading that Scoop is at least partially based on the author’s experience working as foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail covering the Italian Fascist invasion of Abyssinia, but this is where at least part of the book’s magic was lost on me. For, Waugh clearly wrote his book for those in the know, foregoing the onerous task of laying the groundwork to provide context to outsiders in exchange for a speed of plot––effectively the polar opposite to last week’s review––and, unfortunately, I was an outsider in this case, not truly grasping most of the references.
But, even viewed from ignorant eyes, it was still really funny, probably the most enjoyable satire I’ve experienced since, perhaps, Voltaire’s Candide. This means the author didn’t allow his writing to get bogged down by his deeper goals, that the writing was paramount, and yet the book apparently offered so much more if you knew what to look for. All this should attest at least in some respect to its quality.