Evelyn Waugh, “Scoop” (1938) – So THAT’s where the “Daily Beast” gets its name! I’ll admit I had not exactly been pondering that long into the night, but it is interesting to know, I guess. The combination of sass and self-pity — wallowing in the shallows of the dregs of culture and politics and then sniffling over drinks about how low it makes you feel — you get from your contemporary media people sounds pretty Waugh to me.
Waugh did it better, generally. “Scoop” is one of his earlier novels before he made his lugubrious Catholic turn, and is driven by venal misunderstandings leading to shenanigans amongst “Fleet Street” journalists and those around them. Due to some of these misunderstandings, William Boot, a guy who just wants to write about the voles and other animals outside of his decaying country estate, winds up getting send to cover a civil war in Ishmaelia. Ishmaelia is mostly Ethiopia with a little smattering of Liberia thrown in- Waugh had covered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia for a British newspaper.
The humor at the expense of the Ishmaelians ages about as well as you’d expect. But most of Waugh’s satiric spleen is aimed at journalists themselves. Truth be told, beyond a general picture of venality and incompetence — sketched out reasonably amusingly — a lot of the humor seems to be about dunking on specific journalists of the time. I missed many of these jokes. But the general journalistic milieu seems right, especially where it intersects with foreign policy. Boot stumbles into a story, mostly wrong, because his new local girlfriend (“married” to a German who’s already married to someone else- he sends them off in a canoe) knows people who know people, that suits British foreign policy. A dynastic struggle within the country turns into a red-versus-black ideological clash (shades of the Cold War) which eventually turns into something into which the British can profitably intervene.
Truth be told, I read this about a week ago (I’ve been slacking in posting reviews for various reasons) and don’t remember that much about it. I basically remember enjoying it reasonably well; Waugh’s prose, at least, is always smooth and occasionally vivid, and his plotting works after a draggy streak in the middle where he owns a bunch of 30s journalists I don’t know. One issue is that I think we’ve already taken on the idea that journalism is a cynical exercise to such an extent that someone riffing on it extensively doesn’t really do much. But it’s still a good, quick Waugh read. ***’