Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Black Mischief

Black Mischief, Evelyn Waugh's third novel, is also the third of his novels I've read. While I enjoyed Brideshead Revisited and found it to be a masterfully crafted book, it is Waugh's humorous satire that I find to be truly inspired, and this one is even funnier than Vile Bodies. The first 50 pages of this book are a little slow, but there are so many laugh-out-loud moments thereafter it's well worth it.

Black Mischief is set in the fictional island nation of Azania, located off the coast of present-day Somalia. Oxford-educated Emperor Seth ascends to the throne, and brings English dandy Basil Seal on board as his Minister of Modernity. As you may imagine, hilarity ensues. Seth and Basil set about on a mission to modernize the country with antics that include issuing shoes to the army, acquiring the Tank, suggesting compulsory Esperanto, and ultimately hosting the Birth-Control Gala.

The supporting cast of characters is phenomenal. I do believe that John Cleese was born to play the British Envoy Extraordinary, who dodders through life doing as little as possible. Mr. Youkoumian is a master of trickery, finding ways to make money through the exploitation of government wastefulness that would even impress Halliburton. And of course there are my favorites - Dame Mildred and Miss Tin, representatives from the "League of Dumb Chums", whose introduction by the Minister of the Interior as the world leaders in Cruelty to Animals was one of the funniest scenes I have read in a very long time.

This 75-year-old novel is still fresh, funny, and imminently readable, though I am certainly not surprised it has spurred its share of controversy. It really should be on every book club's short list.

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