Book Look - Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh

Am slowly working my way through the Waugh canon but wish it hadn't taken me so long to get around to Scoop. Finished the book a couple of days ago and I'm still smiling over the final 15 pages.

In this outing Waugh takes a break from heavy social commentary (war, politics, social mores) to take on a much broader mark: the fourth estate. Unrest is brewing in the African country of Ishmaelia; British tabloids scamble to deploy their best foreign correspondents to cover the efray. Alas, through a series of blunders and misunderstandings, the Beast ends up deploying the author of their "pastoral living" column. Regular readers of Waugh will recognize William Bolt's type: steadfast and unflappable in the face of mounting chaos. Thrust into the heart of a forgotten African country, surrounded by a cast of socially/ethically/intellectually compromised foreign correspondents, and laden with an entire train-car full of wholly ridiculous luggage (including a "rather overfurnished tent, three months' rations, a collapsible canoe, a jointed flagstaff and Union Jack, and hand-pump and sterilizing plant, an astrolabe, six suites of tropical linen and a sou'wester, a camp operating table and set of surgical instruments, a portable humidor, and a Christmas hamper complete with a Santa Claus costume and a tripod mistletoe stand"), Bolt weathers a series of increasingly absurd predictaments without ever compromising his dignity.

There's not much subtlety here: the majority of characters are little more than grotesques and much of the humor is broad farce. But it's extraordinarily witty and hugely amusing farce: I laughed aloud so often, people actually began to move away from me on the metro. (A added boon during rush hour!)

Yes, Waugh's treatment of Africans is racist and irreverent - but then again, so is his treatment of his fellow countrymen, so critical reviewers might consider lightening up. The racism is no more than an honest representation of the paternalistic attitude of Britain towards "uncivilized lands" at this time in history; and, besides, all's fair in love, war, and satire.

Scoop is brisk, broad, and fun, fun, fun! Definitely a book I'll be picking up again one day.

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