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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Paul Torday

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Title:Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Authors:Paul Torday
Info:Orion Paperbacks (2007), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (2007)


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Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I really didn't hate this novel or anywhere close. However, I had a few problems with it that meant I couldn't rate it any higher than I did.

1. The structure. While I love (love love LOVE) epistolary novels, a lot of the switches in medium really didn't work for me here. The excerpts from Peter Maxwell's biography, the newspapers, Hansard, and some of the police interview things are superfluous and don't work as well as the diary, email, and letter portions. I got really bored during some of the former kind of sections and found myself glazing over.

2. The way Harriet's character was portrayed with relation to Fred. It felt like her whole story, in particular her relationship with Robert, was structured in order to enable Fred's character development. Although I am glad they didn't end up together, I wasn't terribly happy about the way Harriet and Robert's story played out. Ultimately, I wanted to know more about Harriet and was more invested in her as a character than any of the others. She really suffers in this story and it feels a bit unfair that she is so sidelined to Fred and his marriage issues. The sex scene was icky and felt completely out of character - I would also have preferred if the author had maintained the repressed longing aspect rather than have had that scene in there.

3. The ending. Having two of the best characters in the novel die for no reason just... ugh. It was such a crap way to end the story. I mean, what for? Blugh.
( )
  thebookmagpie | Jul 14, 2015 |
having seen the movie first and now read the book I see that it is a prime example of a Hollywood "interpretation" of a novel. Both have not much in common.

Back to the book. It is a good story. English scientist is asked by a Sheik to bring salmon and salmon fishing to Yemen. Throw in a bit of love, romance, relationship problems and pepper with quite a lot of politics and you get a potentially strong story. Has it been implemented as such? I am not sure. The book is spread across too many sources in my eyes. There is the diary of our scientist, an interrogation protocol, a biography f one of the narcissist politicians. I think that hinders a flow.

It somehow left me unsatisifed. ( )
  PeterNZ | May 11, 2015 |
A delightful novel about Dr Alfred Jones and his work for Sheikh Muhammad to bring salmon to the Yemen. Alfred Jones if a fishery expert and he is bought on board by Harriet, who supports Sheikh Muhammad as a land agent for his Scottish estate.
Paul Torday certainly understands fishing: a past-time I have had little understanding of previously but now have more appreciation of why someone might get satisfaction from fly fishing and the patience involved. I also understand much more about the life-cycle of a salmon as this is described in detail throughout the book.
The novel uses diary accounts, letters, emails and reports from Hansard to get the information to the reader so we hear more than one voice. This works fairly well, although it is Alfred Jones' diary entries that are the most engaging.
Dr Alfred Jones starts as a cynical man about the idea of bringing salmon to the Yemen but is taken by the faith of Sheikh Muhammad and Alfred changes and grows as a person as the novel moves on. Alfred's wife Mary has a voice through emails only and she also grows and changes as the novel comes to its amusing end.
Paul Torday makes fun of bureaucracy and the class system in Britain. He also finds fun in spin doctors. These are all easy targets but he has found an original and entertaining way of picking at these structures. ( )
  Tifi | Jan 16, 2015 |
This is a wonderful little book! Both touching and humorous, a fast read and yet thoughtful, it's an amusing satire on British politics as well as attempting to look at the meaning of belief and faith. It's a little weird, definitely, but I enjoyed it very much. ( )
  sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |
I approached this book with a little trepidation as I have heard a lot of praise for it and when that happens I am often left disappointed. This book however did not disappoint.

Dr Alfred Jones is a pretty unimaginative man as a fisheries expert working for an anonymous Government and living in a loveless marriage. When he is approached by representatives of a wealthy Arab to introduce salmon to the deserts of Yemen he is initially dismissive but when he is forced by his boss to so he gradually believes that he can make it work. When the British PM's spin doctor gets wind of the project he realises that this is an opportunity for the Government, battered by bad press due to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to gain some good press within the Middle East and maybe win some extra voters back home he also encourages Fred to complete the development with devastating outcome.

The book is written in the form of a Government overview report using diary entries,letters and emails as sources and for me it would not have worked if written in any other manner.

The basic premise of this book is a little absurd but at the heart of it is the difference between the secular West and faith-based societies of the Middle East. Fred no longer goes to church on a Sunday instead he goes to Tesco whereas the sheikh believes that their plan will work only if God wills it. The book also takes a satirical dig at the materialistic West where wealth is measured in belongings whereas the Middle East inhabitants have less but are more open and generous. However, the author's most savage satire is aimed at the bureaucratic and spin doctor centred British political system. I particularly loved the spin doctor's idea of the a TV station 'The Voice of Britain' where the poor of the developing world can win dishwashers despite not having electricity.

I read most of this book with a smile on my face yet despite this was tempted to give it only 4 stars as the satire is very heavy handed at times. However, I finally plumped for 5 stars as it is one of the most original that I've read in quite a while. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
The impossible title of this extraordinary book took me back to a moment nearly 20 years ago. I had walked for three days down Wadi Surdud, one of the great seasonal watercourses that cut their way towards the Red Sea through the western highlands of Yemen. The scenery was extravagant - deep chasms sculpted by floodwater, pinnacles where lightning licked at high-perched castles, the seats of South Arabian lairds. At last, the gradient decreased, and as I rounded a bend I saw in one of the occasional pools that lay in the wadi bed something I have never seen in Yemen before or since: a man fishing with rod and line. Not, of course, for salmon: this was the coarsest of coarse fishing, for minnow-sized awshaj - I think a type of barbel - with a stick for a rod and a grain of maize for bait. The incongruous scene remains in my memory, and always will. Yemen is a memorable country: "Not a day will pass in your life," wrote the Master of Belhaven, a laird from the distant north, "but you will remember some facet of that opal-land."

Here, as well as lairds and castles, we have mists and glens, kilts, dirks and the odd feud or two. But unlike in Scotland the rain is considerate, coming at known seasons and times of day. It is also somewhat sparing, and there are no natural lochs or permanent rivers, and certainly no salmon (except smoked, on HBM ambassador's canapés). So Paul Torday's debut novel is about an impossibility. It is also about belief in the impossible, and belief itself. And the remarkable thing is that a book about so deeply serious a matter can make you laugh, all the way to a last twist that's as sudden and shocking as a barbed hook.

As with all good comedy, there's a tragic underside, a story of love and loss and another of love that never was. And there is satire. Torday's aim is deadly; but then, his targets are big. Jay Vent, the British prime minister, has taken his country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere in the region: the story is set in the nearish future . . .) and has dug himself into the deepest of holes. So what does he do? Of course: he goes on digging. "We're pretty much committed to going down a particular road in the Middle East," says Vent, a graduate, like his real-life counterpart, of the White Queen's school of logic, "and it would be difficult to change that very much without people beginning to ask why we'd started down it in the first place." . . .

This is an odd artefact. It depicts an attempt to introduce salmon to rivers in the Yemeni Highlands via the largesse of a local sheikh and the expertise of a UK government agency.

The book - it can scarcely be described as a novel - is constructed from supposed diary entries, letters, emails, extracts from Hansard, fragments of autobiography, a TV game show script, transcripts of television and press interviews, Select Committee Report conclusions and interrogations of the various participants in this madcap scheme. All have differing viewpoints and narrators. As such the whole becomes diffuse and bitty.

While there is an overall narrative thread the disparate voices too often fail to suspend disbelief. Instead of being presented with a convincing rendering of a diary extract or interview transcript we are given novelistic embellishments. The diary extracts contain information that we as readers ought to have but a diarist would not find it necessary to include. In one of the interviews a respondent states a person spoke mildly when surely they would report only the relevant conversation’s content, in another there is an (uncredited) interruption which reads, “The witness became emotional after the consumption of custard creams and was incoherent. The interview was resumed after a break of four hours.” This authorial interpolation is, I suppose, intended humorously but is, instead, bathetic, if not pathetic. The Hansard extracts do not quite reflect accurately the format of Prime Minister’s Questions. While it might be said that this is a comic novel and some licence is allowable, to get details such as this last example wrong detracts from the intended effect. Infelicities such as those above totally fail to create the necessary degree of verisimilitude. The name dropping of real people as interviewers - Andrew Marr, Boris Johnson - while the politicians and aides are fictional (yet recognisable) is also a mistake.

The book is obviously meant to be a satire but its approach is so scattershot that it is difficult to tell exactly what or whom is the intended target. Is it the workings of bureaucracies, office politics, communications directors/spin doctors, career women, politicians, even Islamic terrorists? All are featured, but the focus never stays in one place for long. The only character who has any semblance of solidity is the supposedly mad sheikh; and he has no viewpoint narrative.

After the novel’s end we also have “Reading Group Notes” containing items “for discussion.” Some may find this condescending.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen has its moments; but they are few.
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This book is dedicated to my wife Penelope, who can catch salmon in bright sunlight and at low water, to the friends I fish with on the Tyne and the Tay, and to the men and women of the Environment Agency, without whom there would be far fewer fish in our rivers.
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Dear Dr Jones, We have been referred to you by Peter Sullivan at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Directorate for Middle East and North Africa).
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0753821788, Paperback)

British businessman and dedicated angler Paul Torday has found a way to combine a novel about fishing and all that it means with a satire involving politics, bureaucrats, the Middle East, the war in Iraq, and a sheikh who is really a mystic. Torday makes it all work in a most convincing way using memos, interviews, e-mails, and letters in clever juxtaposition.

Dr. Alfred Jones is a fisheries scientist in Great Britain who is called upon to find a way to introduce salmon into the desert in Yemen. The Yemeni sheikh will spare no expense to see this happen. He says:

It would be a miracle of God if it happened. I know it... If God wills it, the summer rains will fill the wadis... and the salmon will run the river. And then my countrymen... all classes and manner of men--will stand side by side and fish for the salmon. And their natures, too, will be changed. They will feel the enchantment of this silver fish... and then when talk turns to what this tribe said or that tribe did... then someone will say, "Let us arise, and go fishing."

Such is the sheikh's vision. He tells Alfred: "Without faith, there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love." Alfred has no religious faith and has been mired in a loveless marriage for twenty years, so these words seem fantastic to him.

Alfred and Sheikh Muhammad connect immediately through their mutual love of fishing, despite Alfred's misgivings about the viability of the project. The Prime Minister's flack man tells Alfred that he must persevere and succeed because Great Britain needs some positive connection to the Middle East, something other than a failing, flailing war. These kinds of political alliances are always shaky at best, and when things start to go sideways, allies have a way of disappearing. Alfred soldiers on, with the help of the lovely Harriet, Sheikh Muhammad's land agent, and the project is readied for opening day, when the Sheikh and the Prime Minister will have a 20-minute photo op.

All of the faith and good will in the world cannot overcome the forces ranged against them, bringing tragedy to everyone involved. Despite all, Alfred's interior life is changed immeasurably. He says in the end: "I believe in it, because it is impossible." --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:27 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

An extraordinary, beguiling tale of fly-fishing and political spinning, of unexpected heroism and late-blooming love, and of an attempt to prove the impossible, possible.

(summary from another edition)

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