Monday, November 3, 2014

This post brought to you in a cleft stick

Fun fact: you can be "finishing your dissertation" for a year (or more!) but at some point, you have to actually finish the dang thing -- and it's, like, work. But then, as you wait for the defense and hope hope hope there are five people not hating your work, you have some weird awkward space to attempt job applications and read things again.

When I bought this copy of Scoop at Open Books, having skipped out of a play with Alice like delinquents or possibly discerning theater-goers, she said something like, "you found a pretty-covered Waugh!" It is that exactly; I like these very distinctive editions, although I'm not fond of the fact that they have not even one sentence of plot description on the back. Look, I just want to be sure I haven't read this one before, but I guess I'm just supposed to be sold by the author's name. It's Waugh, what more could you possibly want to know, I imagine the publisher saying. Or it could be ironically appropriate since in Waugh's books actually knowing anything is generally a handicap, and those who can spin a line, go with the flow, bluff their way through, are the ones who get ahead.

Scoop is certainly in that vein; a socialite convinces a newspaper magnate to hire a trendy writer friend to cover a civil war in Africa, but the newspaper ends up hiring a rather Bilbo-ish country life columnist with a similar name and sending him instead. The civil war isn't real, unless maybe it is, although it doesn't really matter as long as the reports being filed at home are exciting enough.

Like A Handful of Dust, this is a book with a sharp, almost contemptuous driving energy. Western ideologues and journalists have concocted the fake civil war, while capitalist-imperialist interests are behind whatever is actually happening. No one operates under any concept of truth or justice, and this is as true in the fictitious Ismaelia as in London. I was reminded of the current fluster about Ebola as I read; hundreds or thousands of people can die in Africa but it doesn't get as much reaction as one death (or one possible ill person!) in America or Western Europe. Waugh's not making quite that point, but he is talking about a similar kind of self-centeredness and callousness.

It occurs to me that I might not describe Scoop as "funny". It is funny, start to finish it's funny; but if I had a dedicated shelf for comedy, it wouldn't get shelved there. (I am tagging this post humor, but that's metadata. Har har.) It's not a lighthearted book, I think. Waugh's writing reads as a bit angry to me, and I'm not entirely sure that I'm right about that. Maybe I'm bringing certain preconceptions about Waugh as a literary writer to the table, or maybe media manipulation, commercially expedient crisis, etc, just don't feel like much of a laughing matter in 2014. But I got this sense from A Handful of Dust too, where Waugh is unsparing in dishing out disaster in the real world outside the London social round. So, consistency in the writer or consistency in the reader?

1 comment:

  1. What more could you possibly WANT to know, or what more could you possibly.....waugh-nt to know.