Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Spoiler

It's not exactly the clash of two civilizations, but it is the clash of two views on journalism.  A vapid young reporter Tamara Sim is sent to interview Honor Tait, a legend of British journalism.

Tait was a pioneering war reporter who covered the big stories of the 20th century.  Franco just before he took power.  On the beach at  Normandy.  Korea.  She's seen it all, including accompanying the first troops to enter the concentration camps in Europe, an experience still haunts her.

Tait's book, a collection of some of her great stories, is about to be released, a collection of some of her best reportage.  And her publishers have overcome her desire for privacy and agreed to an interview with the Monitor newspaper.

Tamara Sim can't believe she's been selected for this interview.  And frankly neither can we.   Her speciality for the tabloids are Top Ten lists, such as Top Ten Celebrity Bad Hair Days.  Tamara has a part-time job but is always scrabbling to find freelance opportunities to make ends meet, so she sees this assignment as her big chance to move upmarket - and upstairs).

Tamara is determined to do well.  Well, not determined enough to read the provided background material, or Tait's book, which she considers a boring recital of events she knows nothing about.  (Her acquaintance with T. S. Eliot is based solely on the musical Cats, and she rather thinks the Cultural Revolution was part of the Viet Nam war).  But she is determined to discover the important stuff about Tait, namely what Hollywood celebrity she slept with.  Someone the public (and Tamara) would care about more than a boring, brittle, old woman.

The pleasure of this book rests less on a plausible plot than on biting satire about how journalism has been watered down in recent years.  Beset by economic travails brought on the Internet, papers broaden their appeal to scramble for every possible reader.  As I was reading this book, The Globe and Mail, arguably the thinking (wo)man's newspaper in Canada, had a piece on the 7 Worst Moms in TV History.  Sigh.  Maybe Tamara Sim wrote that one.  (Although she would undoubtedly have spelled it Mum rather than the American-style Mom!)

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