A story in a recent edition of The Print, a New Delhi-based digital newspaper specializing in political reporting, likens the journalistic coverage of the recent Russian hacking scandal to the war coverage described in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop. The story opens with this:
The British writer Evelyn Waugh probably foresaw the state of journalism today when he wrote his hilarious novel Scoop. Written in 1938, almost 80 years ago, the novel sought to expose the vainglorious and mindless side of journalism in England. It focuses on an imaginary war-torn east African country, the ‘Republic of Ishmaelia, and seeks to depict Fleet Street’s hunger for sensation and so-called “exclusive” stories. The nationalists and patriots, rebels and revolutionaries, Russian Bolsheviks and rulers create such fantastic mayhem that no one knows exactly who is fighting whom and for what. Yet, a reporter completely ignorant of the country and with no experience in ‘war journalism’, writes reports for ‘The Daily Beast’ that make headlines back home in England…
Waugh wrote the novel when there was no debate on fake news, post truth and the cyber-riot. That started much later, after the arrival of mobile phones, and the advent of the global anarchy of social media. The reportage on the alleged hacking attack to influence the 2016 US presidential election and Trump’s suspected Russian escapades is not far from this scenario.
After a brief discussion of the hacking scandal reportage, the story morphs into a review of similar journalistic shortfallings in coverage of Indian elections.
From Abu Dhabi, Joe Jenkins reporting in The National, also cites Waugh’s novel. In a discussion of his “favorite reads”, he starts with Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time and anything by “Orwell, Wyndham, Wells and Greene – for pleasure, as well as plenty of Thomas Hardy” and then starts a specific reading list with this:
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy includes some of the finest writing of the 20th century, but this little marvel of his is perhaps the most biting and witty novel I know. Scoop is the ultimate satire on old Fleet Street. Dispatched by Lord Copper’s Daily Beast to cover a brewing conflict in Ishmaelia (actually Abyssinia), countryman William Boot is out of his depth, overloaded with superfluous supplies and while cutting his teeth as a foreign correspondent attempting to wade through the fog of a phoney war. The experience transforms him from near-bumpkin to knowing adult. If you haven’t read it, do. It will not fail to make you smile.
Singaporean comic novelist Kevin Kwan, writing in The Week magazine, recommends six social satires among which is Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies:
The name Evelyn Waugh might bring to mind Brideshead Revisited seriousness. But his early works were wickedly hilarious. This romp [Vile Bodies] about the Bright Young Things — a decadent subset of 1920s London high society — had me laughing so hard I almost fell out of bed.
Finally, from Ireland, the Independent newspaper also has a proposed book list. This is for vacation reading and is helpfully divided into several book categories from thrillers to Irish literature, with 4-5 books in each category. Under “classics” comes this:
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
It’s the ultimate indulgence read. It’s a leisurely, meandering novel with scores of memorable characters, and follows Charles Ryder, fresh up to Oxford when we first meet him, as his life entwines for decades with that of Sebastian Flyte’s aristocratic Catholic family. It’s funny and sad in almost equal measure, and contains a glorious section involving Charles and Sebastian heading to a decaying Venice to visit the latter’s father. Later, there’s also an extended trip on a cruise ship, making two literary holidays for the price of one. Reading this for the first time would make any holiday more memorable.