Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (United Kingdom 1938).

Most British journalists know the meaning of the phrase, "Up to a point, Lord Copper." It means No, but the fictional press baron's employees never wanted to give him so straightforward a report.

Scoop was the Wag the Dog of its day, a knowing and funny satire of cynical journalists determined to concoct a non-existent story to bolster their careers -- and quickly, so they could get back to drinking and screwing on the company tab.

A revolution may be brewing in the East African nation of Ishmaelia! The ruling family is rumored to be factionalizing! Communists and fascists are reportedly taking up arms! Consequently, Lord Copper mistakenly assigns William Booth, his incompetent rural life correspondent, to cover the story for the Daily Beast:

"Remember that the Patriots are in the right and are going to win. The Beast stands by them four-square. But they must win quickly. The British public has no interest in a war that drags on indecisively. A few sharp victories, some conspicuous acts of personal bravery on the Patriot side, and a colorful entry into the capital. That is the Beast Policy for the war."

Change the names, and this could be a memo from CNN brass.

Not that the scribes who descend upon Ishmaelia are any better than their employers. "Shumble, Whelper and Pigge knew Corker; they had loitered together of old on many a doorstep and forced an entry into many a stricken home." Meanwhile, the Ishmaelite officials prevaricate, the work-a-day citizens charge felonious prices, and William becomes entangled with a young German woman whose husband never seems to be in town.

The novel is based on author Evelyn Waugh's unhappy experience reporting on the impending Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Waugh's big scoop was ruined. Waugh learned that the Italian ambassador was leaving, which meant that the Italian Army would soon be arriving. Knowing that all telegrams were read by the authorities and by rival reporters, Waugh wrote and telexed his dispatch in Latin. His editors at the Daily Mail couldn't make heads or tails of it and killed the story.

Is Scoop entertaining? Yes. Nasty? At times. Dated and irrelevant? Up to a point, Lord Copper.

* * * *

(Judging from reviews, the new Woody Allen movie of the same name has nothing to do with the book.)

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Anonymous Crouchback said...

Scoop is a nearly perfect book but for Waugh's finest moments and the final fictive word on war I strongly urge the Sword of Honor trilogy: Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and The End of the Battle. Scarier and more Catholic than Brideshead they force a reader to recognize that nothing good has been written by anyone for many years.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Paul Karl Lukacs said...

Better than The Corrections? Is that possible?

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing good's been written for years? Just a bit of an overstatement, I think.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Dave Williams said...

Uh, so is this more important than the tanks rolling through town?

12:50 AM  
Blogger Paul Karl Lukacs said...

Dave, Can you tell from the TV if the Thai military is using U.S. weapons? Paul

1:38 AM  

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