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Scoop - Evelyn Waugh (1938)

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At first glance Scoop is s novel of chance, coincidence, and manipulation…. but only at first glance. For inside the cover of SCOOP lies the semi-autobiographical confession of a man shunned by his peers, of a family fallen from grace and rejected by those the author most admired, the Oxford men of England’s elite.

Our author is a man who squandered his own Oxford opportunity on what he later called “fatuously haughty” behaviours. Preferring to indulge his passion for drinking, university clubs and exploring his sexuality than embracing academic growth. Losing a scholarship and failing to graduate his degree he turns to primary school teaching and later pecking out a living as a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail. Circumstances that force him to confront his talent. SCOOP draws upon Waugh’s own experience as a foreign correspondent and in particular his time spent as a correspondent assigned to Ethiopia to cover the rise and machinations of Haile Selassie and the Italian fascist incursions of the 1930’.

Like many of his characters, at this time had been married and divorced, undergone a spiritual awakening and converted to Catholicism and set about writing some of this greatest works of travel and satire whilst based in Africa. SCOOP builds on all of this. It’s a book that deftly skirts between satire, cynicism and even the outrageous. Its humour stomps firmly into Waugh’s irreverence for England’s elite societies, his naked resentment of post-colonial ex-patriates and his belief in the existence of vested interests in government and those who pull their strings.

SCOOP charts a rookie jouirnalists journey between “Ishmaelia” (a fictional African nation) and England and we meet one of Waugh’s grand ensembles’ of characters. There is Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the "Daily Beast”. Mrs Algernon Smith, an influential member of London’s high society who, by seeking to help a failed artist called Boot, triggers a series of events that sees a hapless nature writer of the same name shipped off to Ishmaelia. Our hero of coincidence arrives there over provisioned, under trained and totally out of his depth. Down this rabbit hole we meet the ancestors of the Murdochracy , other media desperado’s and an array of humorous characters native and imported to this much hyped yet astoundingly ordinary nation. Amid the melee nests an agent of commercial interests reeking of political influence and military connectivity. We witness the hijinks wrought from the naked ambition of those seeking the “scoop”, their disdain for the truth and other characters that are drawn along in their wake.

Read SCOOP. It’s a comedic, exuberant, and brilliantly irreverent satire of big media and its ludicrous absence of standards and ethics. It’s a story of innocence lost and found, of ambition and contentment, of love and of heartbreak and of the lukewarm passion of the transactional relationship. It’s a warning to the future generations of a post-truth world that honesty is always the first casualty of wars, hot or cold. But mostly it’s fun, relevant and its perhaps one of the few stories of its time where the good guys win in the end………….

Tony O'Donnell (Fortitude Valley Chapter)

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