Monday, April 11, 2011
Modern Library Challenge: #75 - Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Looks like I finally return to the Modern Library 100 list!
When the RNG chose another Evelyn Waugh book, I have to admit that I was a teensy bit less than ecstatic. I wasn't particularly impressed with Brideshead Revisited, the last book of Waugh's that I read. While reading and after finishing Scoop, though, I was happily surprised. The two books share almost nothing in common, which is just fine with me.
Scoop, as the title implies, is about journalism. To be precise, it is about the wacky shenanigans involved with reporting foreign news. In the obviously fictional African nation of Ishmaelia civil war looks like a certain thing. Despite knowing nothing about this insignificant country and the actors involved, the British media is scurrying all over itself to send foreign correspondents. One of these outlets, the Daily Beast, decides to send John Boot, an up-and-coming author, to Ishmaelia as a favor curried through John's benefactor. In the midst of the craziness of hammering out the plans, the orders to ship abroad are accidentally sent to William, not John, Boot.
Enter William Booth. William happens to be a far-removed cousin of John who works for the Daily Beast as a nature reporter. He lives with his extended family in a crumbling manor way, way out in the sticks. He loathes and fears London and submits all of his work through the mail. To say that he is not worldly would be quite an understatement. When he receives his orders to go abroad he at first thinks he is being punished and refuses to go. He finally caves, though, and the adventure begins. Just getting to Ishmaelia with his almost-literally ton of supplies of luggage proves to be an exercise in futility. Once he (and the rest of the gaggle of foreign correspondents) get there, the fun really begins.
Obviously out of his league, Boot has absolutely no idea where to begin. Through a strange bumbling series of mishaps, misdirection, Soviet scheming, and even a brief love affair, he somehow breaks the big story and vaults himself into the pantheon of journalistic brilliance. How he he gets from point A to point B is about 99% of the fun of reading this novel, so I won't spoil it for anyone.
Despite being written over seventy years ago, Scoop is still a brilliant piece of satire and is as relevant to foreign and war journalism as ever. This novel touches on several themes of importance, including war reporters crafting stories and manufacturing facts at a typewriter hundreds of miles away from the front. If you believe this hasn't happened in modern military conflicts, I have some beautiful swampland you may be interested in purchasing. Scoop also focuses on is the story creating the action (aka "life imitating journalism"). In this novel, the correspondents have no idea what they are doing or what is actually going on in Ishmaelia. Despite this, the newspapers needs to stories so the correspondents supply them, regardless of the factual validity of the reports.
As I said, Scoop a great piece of satire. In many ways, it reminds me of Vonnegut before Vonnegut had even written his first novel. The absurdity of the whole thing never ceases to entertain. Since I still have one more novel by Waugh left on the Modern Library list, I will hold out hope that it is of this caliber and not that of Brideshead Revisited.
Just one note of caution: there are some relatively racist pieces of dialogue in this novel. I'm not sure if it's a reflection of English sentiments towards Africans at the time or "Kipling-esque" feelings held by Waugh, but it does get offensive at times. Nothing over the top or anything, just a little surprising.
Despite all over my initial hesitation over this book, I give it four and a half out of five stars and recommend it to anyone interested in a hilarious rollercoaster of a novel, good satire, and those who like Abbot and Costello films.
The RNG chose One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn next. Because it is short (and because I've been slacking with reviews), I have already finished it. I'll try to get a review up in the next couple of days. Cheers!