Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: All the news that fits we print

Evelyn Waugh is truly a master stylist and a comic artist. Decline and Fall, his first novel, is quite the romp. And even though it's filled with chance coincidences and inane comments and characters, it makes for some delightful reading.

Scoop follows in the footsteps of Decline and Fall rather than the popular Brideshead Revisited, the latter which is much more interested in character and commentary, of reflecting on the world as opposed to reporting on it. And reporting on the world is exactly what Scoop does: it investigates and evaluates the insanity, ridiculously, and sometime carlessness of what once used to be the print journalism world.

It begins with one John Boot, a young man like Waugh who had written several books before turning thirty, each to much acclaim. John wants a change of scenery, especially since his American girlfriend is headed back to the States. So he calls upon Julia Stitch, a woman who seems to have all the answers and all the influence. Julia talks to Lord Copper, publisher of The Daily Beast (the namesake for Tina Brown's new news website), a man looking for someone to send as a foreign correspondent to Ishmaelia (a thinly veiled Ethiopia). Copper turns out not to be much into details, for he tells his editorial team to look for a Boot and they come up with William Boot, a sometime writer for the garden section of the paper, whose family is almost out of 'The Addams Family', one odder than the next.

William, who has no passport and who hasn't left his family's 'manor' in ages, is then sent to London and out to Ishmaelia to report on the wars going on there. The trouble is, nothing is. Instead William becomes enchanted by other foreign journalists all looking for the scoop to make people care about Eastern Africa. William finds romance, devious leaders, loquacious doctors, and desultory servant boys who carry even more haphazard messages from the Beast. Along the way, William eventually realises that he must enhance the news in order for people back home to care. And that he does, making him a celebrity (and a man to be knighted by the King upon return to the UK, a plot that takes an unfortunate turn as the Prime Minister's men get confused and think that the Boot in question is John Boot, the aforementioned novelist).

Waugh always has a witty riposte for worldly events, for concepts that readers might enjoy: in Brideshead he mentions that there's nothing worse than being an English major. Here, in Scoop, there's the scary thought of the Managing Editor of the Beast who says 'There's nothing in the world I'm fit to do except edit the Beast,' a fear many editors in print media are feeling at the moment.

Although the confusion of this novel would be difficult to pull off in today's world, the concepts of getting the news, reporting the news, and dilating the news still ring true and eerily close to home. A very amusing, comical read from the beginning. And a very insightful one as well.

No comments: