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4.1 out of 5 stars29
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 9 July 2001
I thought about this book and Waugh's other comic African novel, "Scoop," after reading Michela Wrong's "Looking for Mr. Kurtz." While most of the news arising from sub-Saharan Africa today is tragic, behind these stories are tales that would be comic if not for their horrible endings. In "Black Mischief," Waugh tells the tale of a mythical African king whose English university education instills in him the desire to hammer the values and ethics of his nation into Western molds. He seeks the aid of a university classmate, Basil Seal, but Seal, upon his arrival, finds himself in the middle of a civil war. While the characters and dialogue seem drawn from a cartoon, and upon a superficial reading, racist, they ultimately ring true, and even at times compassionate, especially when measured against events in central Africa in the past ten years. Do not read this book though for a lesson in political science. It's a grand romp, and a sure page turner.
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on 22 April 2002
Waugh transfers his deadly wit and insight from the vacuuous parties of the youthful London society to the African Jungle with disastrous and hugely amusing results. Waugh manages to parody the eccentricities of the English, the French and tribal Africans in a magnificient muddle that makes the wild jungle look tame. Be prepared for Waugh's trademark combination of pathos and hilarity; this book makes you rock with laughter before you fully realise the horrific situations that a typically unmerciful Waugh is making you laugh at. A fantastic insight into our very worst fears of colonial consequences.
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Although this is not my favourite novel by Waugh, it is undoubtedly an outrageously un-politically correct tale, set in an imagined African state. Waugh wrote the novel after a winter spent in East and Central Africa, which also resulted in a non-fiction work Remote People (Penguin Modern Classics). The imaginary state of Azania may be remote, but new Emperor, Seth, has been Oxford educated and is desperate to bring modernity to his confused population. "I am the New Age. I am the Future" he declares, as his troops are locked in a decisive battle with the usurper Seyid.

Do not imagine for one moment that Evelyn Waugh has written this in an attempt to show that Europeans are, in some way, superior to Africa or that they should be involved in running a country they have no understanding of. Indeed, it is certainly the Europeans on which his sharpest satire is aimed. At the capital Debra Dowa, the diplomatic powers are utterly ridiculous. The English 'Envoy Extraordinary' is more concerned with growing asparagus and playing in the bathtub than any official papers; while attache the Hon William Bland has forgotten the outcome of the battle between hearing the news and climbing the stairs. The French are involved in attempting to discover what the English are up to; imagining all sorts of plots and ciphers which don't exist, and corruption and incompetence are everywhere When Basil Seal, always "in revolutions and murders and things" decides he is bored with London, he uses a vague aquaintance with Seth to become his right hand man. This book is absolutely outrageous, very funny and shows why Evelyn Waugh is still one of the greatest writers this country has ever produced.
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on 14 July 2009
On the back of this is a quote from the times literary supplement describing it as outrageously funny, but despite this it is in parts actually humorous, it also includes at various points, a revolution, some camels, people living in a car, a con artist, chain letters, cannibalism and Gilbert and Sullivan. Imagine Carry On meets diet Palahniuk and you might be close to this "classic" novel. Ideal for those who think Waugh is all upper class boredom and fannying about in stately homes. If you have some time to kill pick this up you won't be disappointed, well unless you think James Patterson is the greatest writer ever in which case why exactly are you reading this review.
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on 27 December 2012
Waugh's prose is exquisite, it has the timing and rhythm of a fine comedian; the story is outrageously politically incorrect, but totally even handed in its cynicism and social judgement it is, in fact, a classic. I have read it several times over the years and it is fresh each time I start again. I have it in soft back, hard back, and now conveniently on Kindle.
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on 3 February 2010
I found Black Mischief an enjoyable read.It is nice to read politically incorrect statements about Africa and Africans without causing offence or being offensive. Waugh writes about a time that is now just a dim memory in history, but the morals of what was happening in Africa then still hold true to-day-corrupt emperors[dictators]unscrupulous assistants, the white man knows best how to rule the country, english traditions transposed to a different climate,and cultural environment
I do not think that this is Evelyn Waugh's best novel, but it certainly fits well into the genre of 1930's writing and the theme that Waugh selects for many of his novels
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on 24 July 2014
I'm afraid I just didn't get on with this book. Waugh tells the story of British ex-patriates living in a fictitious African country through snippets of dialogue, which are witty enough in themselves, but which became increasingly tedious and disconcerting as the book progressed. If only he'd written it the same way as he'd written Decline and Fall with a meaningful, clear narrative, it would have been so much better. My other problem with the book was repetition of technique - something ghastly happens and someone British dismisses the incident with a typical British understatement. After a while, one groans rather than laughs.

As one would expect, the dialogue is acutely observed and very funny at times, but most modern readers may well want more than that to sustain interest. If you're new to Evelyn Waugh, try one of his other books as a starter.
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on 7 December 2007
Waugh is wickedly, mercilessly amoral; the horror in his books is the blank hollow indifference to his characters' fates. The opening chapter twists and turns, each new reversal having its own power to shock. If you're willing to have your bubble of political correctness pricked, read the opening; if you're willing to have it shredded utterly, finish the book.
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on 5 January 2014
One reason for buying "classics" editions (Penguin Classics, Oxford World Classics) is the belief that the text has been properly checked against a reliable edition. I bought what claims to be the Kindle version of a Penguin Modern Classics edition, but the text is full of obvious inaccuracies. What I guess should be "listlessness" becomes "lisdessness"; "not" becomes "riot". There are full stops missing all over the place. This leaves me unsure elsewhere: is the "old negro" mentioned at one point "scared" or "scarred"? Penguin should be able to do better than this.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 March 2013
I have previously really enjoyed 'Scoop', 'A Handful Of Dust', and 'Decline & Fall', and had heard good things about this book. Primarily I had heard that it was very funny. Whilst it certainly has a few moments of laugh out loud hilarity overall I thought it was a somewhat incoherent and inconsistent read.

One of the most striking things for a modern reader is the incessant casual racism that peppers the book. That said it's mainly just racist epithets, although there are a few obvious stereotypes that would have been widely accepted at the time the book was written. Overall though, at heart this is a satirical novel and much of the satire still rings true. The book also powerfully evokes Africa, and specifically the East of the continent where the fictitious island country of Azania is located.

The funniest parts of the book arise from the suspicions on the part of the French about the intentions of the British. The reports that the French receive invariably misinterpret the most innocent activities. There is also a very funny scene involving a couple of animal rights activists who are misconstrued as being in favour of animal cruelty.

Curiously the very best writing occurs right at the end of the book, when the main protagonist, who starts the tale as a shallow socialite, is forced to confront his traumatic experiences, which are brought into sharp relief when he reunites with some "bright young thing" friends.

Overall though I was slightly disappointed and would recommend 'Scoop', 'A Handful Of Dust', and 'Decline & Fall' over this book for a newcomer to Evelyn Waugh's work. Inexplicably I have still to read 'Brideshead Revisited' so cannot say where that fits into his work - though expect that it is very good, and probably another title to read before 'Black Mischief'.
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