News hound

I've always enjoyed Evelyn Waugh's writing, but Scoop is a complete gem. Undoubtedly one of the funniest books I've ever read; and also a novel that manages to be both of its time, and completely timeless.

William Boot, author of a country-life column in The Beast newspaper unexpectedly becomes a war reporter when he is mistaken for someone else, and sent off to Ishmaelia in Africa, a country on the brink of war. As his fellow-journalists travel off in search of a non-story, Boot accidentally falls upon the scoop of the title, the machinations of a foreign power to take over the government of a small, unstable country.

Written in 1938, the language and mores are of their time, but there is a timelessness about Scoop too. This could be any banana republic of the twentieth-century from the Haiti of the Duvaliers to Trujillo's Dominican Republic. Destabilisation? think Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair. And the background to war reporting is, I think, not that different whether you were a reporter in Abyssinia (as Waugh was), or Vietnam, or Afghanistan. The attempts by some journalists to create a story where none exists will also be familiar to many a twenty-first century reader - I was just surprised that it had been happening for so long.

The last third of the novel with Boot, now a bit of a hero, and a god to up-and-coming journos, on the run in the countryside from attempts to send him to cover a female conquest of the Antarctic is hilarious. But this time, it's not the sharp satire of the African escapade but reminiscent of Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm, which I'm sure Waugh must have read recently. It's every bit as funny too.

Some of the social mores and language are of their day, and can be slightly uncomfortable reading for modern sensibilities, but despite this, it's a great book. One of the few books that manages to feel both modern and of its time - a superb read. It's often been cited as the favourite novel of many a foreign correspondent, for some it's almost a bible; and it's now one of my very favourite books.


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