“Making Nice” is a gratifying satire of the Internet age
Make Nice. By Ferdinand Mont. Bloomsbury continuum; 256 pages; £ 16.99
BRITISH NOVELS excel at capturing the cut and push of a newsroom in a genre perhaps best described as the picaresque hack. Evelyn Waugh is his flag bearer. His 1938 novel, “Scoop” follows a man of modest means mistaken for a foreign correspondent and sent to a fictional country in East Africa. The tale is an exceptional satire on the mores of the media and their insatiable thirst for sweets and gossip.
Ferdinand Mount’s new novel “Making Nice” is clearly indebted to “Scoop” but updates its framework for the modern information age. Here, reports are written on social media posts. All middle-aged old school journalists who can’t imagine click traps for meager salaries have been thrown in the slag heap, along with their outdated fax machines.
The protagonist of the book is Dickie Pentecost, a diplomatic correspondent who was recently fired. Like Waugh’s hero William Boot, Dickie is drawn into a series of misadventures, this time in a digital world. Ethelbert (“Ethel” for short), the eccentric and mysterious panjandrum of Making Nice, an advertising agency, hires Dickie to participate in various schemes involving a corrupt African leader in exile, a Trump-style American politician and a pompous Briton. deputy which puts Dickie at the service of the ghostwriting of his memoirs. The principle of operation: make the greedy look altruistic, and transmute the tyrants into humanitarians, all in the name of “reputation retrieval”.
Mr. Mount has a big ear for corporate double talk, used by Ethel to justify his company’s online skulduggery. When Dickie asks about the name of the company, Ethel tells him that her mission is to “turn the system into a game you can’t help but fall in love with.” false positive reviews for customers (known as “astroturfing”) at his request.
“Making Nice” shows how lies in the internet age have poisoned the truth and suggests that everyone is more sensitive to the nuanced effects. It would all be horribly depressing without the lightness of the book. Mr. Mount has written a one-sitting satire, a sharp critique of the modern world delivered with courage and verve. ■
This article appeared in the Books and Arts section of the Print Publishing under the title “Smoke and mirrors”