Scoop is also on the Telegraph list of 100 novels everyone should read. After the heaviness of several nineteenth century novels in a row, this was pleasantly lightweight both in word count and style. The novel is about a countryside columnist William Boot, who, by the error of the newspaper’s editorial staff, is sent off instead of his novelist cousin to cover a war in an East African country called Ishmaelia. Other journalists also descend on the country. Despite the lack of warfare, friendly rivalry between all the journalists concerned, and Boot’s naivety, he manages to get the ‘scoop’ of the title. He returns back to England a hero, whereupon his cousin gets all the credit and he is allowed to return back to the English countryside.
Gore Vidal said of Evelyn Waugh that he wrote “prose so chaste that at times one longs for a violation of syntax to suggest that its creator is fallible, or at least part American.” His humour is subtle, at least compared to childish toilet gags such as Australian writer Andy Griffiths produces. I mention this because my sons had been put off by the black and white period photo on the front of my copy. I tried and failed to explain Waugh’s humour to them but can only hope that they will read the novel for themselves. Perhaps when they are older and less prejudiced about cover images they will also be better able to appreciate the satire in the book, including the wonderful sentence from Boot’s countryside column: “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.”
There are too many jokes to mention but I loved the images of William Boot’s country family with their elderly Nannies ensconced in various locations, the newspaper editors thinking that they must serve countrymen salmon and cider, Boot arriving in Africa with rather excessive baggage, and the journalists all being taken out of town to a muddy site with a made-up name because they have been told that is where the action is.
Do read this book. It may have been written in the 1950s but is just as incisive and relevant today.