Black Mischief, Waugh's third novel, helped to establish his reputation as a master satirist. Set on the fictional African island of Azania, the novel chronicles the efforts of Emperor Seth, assisted by the Englishman Basil Seal, to modernize his kingdom. Profound hilarity ensues from the issuance of homemade currency, the staging of a "Birth Control Gala", the rightful ruler's demise at his own rather long and tiring coronation ceremonies, and a good deal more mischief.
©1960 Evelyn Waugh (P)2012 Hachette Audio
Yes, chiefly because of Michael Maloney's marvelous reading.
Hard to pick just one. Certainly memorable, if horrendous, is the scene where the trader Youkoumian returns home from being kidnapped and goes to bed refusing to untie his poor wife who is was trussed up by the kidnappers hours before and lies in agony in her bonds.
His mellifluous accents made every sentence a seductive delight, and the suave and sinister voice he gives to that rakish anti-hero Basil Seal was absolutely irresistable. Other characters as well, for instance the middle aged upper-class Englishwomen, are given voices that are utterly convincing and hilarious.
No. It is too rich and horrifying a feast for that.
Perhaps it is among Waugh's black comedies even too black for most readers. However, one must point out that the European characters hardly come off as more admirable than the Africans. His other African novel, Scoop, is much admired, though probably not more politically incorrect than Black Mischief.
But what most of all causes me to consider it Waugh's best is his hero, Basil Seal. One might reasonably say that Seal if the only true hero Waugh ever created, since his novels tend to be centered on the catastrophic experiences of a young man who is no more than a cipher. Basil Seal is alive and active in his ruthless and egoistic adventures. We first meet him when in order to finance a trip to Africa, he steals his mother's emeralds. Hardly a cipher, this one.
His other appearance, in Put Out More Flags, is also read by Michael Maloney, and I intend to purchase it even though I already have a version read by someone else.
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