Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

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Could someone please explain to me why this book is number 75 on the Modern Library list of 100 greatest novels?

Scoop is a satirical comedy of errors. It’s the story of 3 men with the same last name of Boot… all 3 are writers. As rumors circulate that a civil war is about to erupt in Ishmaelia- a remote area of East Africa- every major newspaper in Europe sends a war corespondent to get the big scoop. The chief editor of a London newspaper called “The Beast”, does a rich socialite a favor by hiring her friend Mr. Boot to take on the assignment. He’s a well-known author of both history and travel.

Through mis-communication, incompetence, and carelessness, a distant cousin, William Boot (who already works for “The Beast”) is mistakenly assumed to be the Mr. Boot in question. But William Boot is a meek and introverted guy who specializes in studying rodents and birds and writes a weekly nature column. So the farce begins with William Boot traveling to Ishmaelia armed with an open-ended expense account and an arsenal of camping supplies that should – and does – cover every imaginable emergency situation. The plot that ensues is exaggerated, absurd, and is bordering on slapstick.

Characters include a big German woman – Frau Dressler – who runs the only decent inn in Ishmaelia which is swarming with war correspondents… all on the alert for any bit of news they can send home, but mostly just sitting around drinking and gambling. If they can’t find news, they are known to use their imagination and invent a good story, which is communicated to their home office by cryptic cablegram messages.

Then there is the beautiful and exotic blond… a Russian/Polish woman named Katchen… and Dr. Benito, the Director of the Press Bureau. I hate to sound inane, but the characters reminded me of Boris and Natasha, the Russian spies from the 1960’s TV show Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

Granted, there was some sharp and witty ridicule of the manner in which the media operates, but on the whole, this 1930’s “classic” was out-dated and boring. Thank goodness it’s a large-print, double-spaced, 321 short pages. Otherwise, I could not have forced myself to finish it.

And for the panel of judges who make up the Modern Library list of 100… here’s the real scoop. There just happens to be a very powerful novel about another civil war called Gone With the Wind –also written in the 1930’s that NEVER MADE YOUR LIST! In and of itself, that qualifies you as having made the literary snafu of the century.

Rated 1.5 Stars

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