Freshly Pressed: Five Great Novels of the Reporter's Art
Inspired by Michael Frayn's merciless 1967 dissection of Fleet Street Towards the End of the Morning, guest contributor Kim Forrester of Reading Matters shares her five favourite novels set in the world of journalism.
This month's Rediscovered Classic is Michael Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning, which is one of my favourite journalism novels; but there are dozens more I've read over the years that have both amused and delighted me.
There's something about a newsroom that seems to attract eccentric characters, making the whole business of producing newspapers and magazines ripe for comedy and satire. Indeed, as a journalist myself, I’ve worked with many of them.
Here are five novels about journalism that I highly recommend:
The Spoiler by Annalena McAfee
This delightfully fun and adroit novel pits two female journalists against each other: Honor Tait a highly regarded veteran war correspondent whose career has drawn to a close, and Tamara Sim, a young and tenacious tabloid reporter who is sent to interview Honor for a glossy magazine supplement. A comedy of errors ensues as Tamara tries to write the best feature she possibly can in order to make a name for herself, while Honor tries her best to avoid the possibility of any dirt being dug up. This is a terrific account of journalistic tricks and the generation gap writ large.
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
In McEwan’s 1998 Booker Prize-winning novel, a newspaper editor tries to revive a flagging career and a dive in circulation figures by publishing a series of photographs that could bring down a politician. A searing tongue-in-cheek account of journalistic ethics before the internet took over, it’s also a terrific comedy about middle-aged men who will do almost anything to kick-start, or cling onto, stalled careers.
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Set in 1980s New York, this story about a young man working in the fact-checking department of a highbrow magazine is a brilliant black comedy about journalism and office life. But as our narrator lurches from one crisis to another, it also highlights how important it is to find meaningfulness in our work, play and relationships.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
A fascinating potted history of the newspaper game, this 'novel' is actually 11 interlinked short stories focusing on the employees of an English-language newspaper in Rome. It includes everyone from the corrections editor to the news editor, but my favourite chapters focus on a highly experienced Paris correspondent, who is so desperate to earn a commission he fabricates a lead story, and the obituary writer, sidelined in his career, who doesn’t recover his motivation until someone close to him dies. This is a brilliant satire on journalism with just a touch of too-close-for-comfort realism.
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
A classic of the genre, and the one that is consistently billed as the 'funniest novel about journalism', Waugh's tale follows the farcical adventure of William Boot, who is mistaken for an eminent writer, and is sent off to a fictional African country to report on a 'little known war' for the Daily Beast. With no journalistic training and far out of his depth, Boot struggles to comprehend what it is he is being paid to do and makes one blunder after another all in the pursuit of hot news. One word: hilarious.
Tamara Sim, a ruthlessly ambitious young journalist, is thrilled when she is sent to interview veteran war correspondent Honor Tait. But Honor isn't an easy subject; it's almost as if she has something to hide. And when Tamara starts to do some digging she makes a discovery which has devastating consequences for them both...
Two old friends - Cline Linley and Vernon Halliday - meet at the funeral of Molly Lane. Both men had been Molly's lovers; Clive is Britain's most eminent modern composer and Vernon is the editor of the respected broadsheet, The Judge. In the weeks that follow, Clive and Vernon's lives become bound together in ways neither could have imagined.
Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of 'The Daily Beast', has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another.
Set in the crossword and nature notes department of an obscure national newspaper during the declining years of Fleet Street, where John Dyson dreams wistfully of fame and the gentlemanly life - until one day his great chance of glory at last arrives. Selected as our May 2016 Rediscovered Classic.
You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. So begins our hero's trawl through the brightly lit streets of Manhattan, sampling all this wonderland has to offer yet suspecting that tomorrow's hangover may be caused by more than simple excess. This is a classic 80s novel.