Monday, July 30, 2007

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Cover of paperback Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

There’s an extraordinary feeling that comes from being drawn into reading a simple story, enticed to finish each page and quickly turn over to the next to find out what happens in the characters’ world.

Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a remarkable book, that elicits that feeling.

I’d added it to my Amazon shopping basket after hearing a now long-forgotten review on the Five Live Mayo weekly book panel podcast back in February. The book remained unordered for a month or two before being finally broke my Lent embargo on bringing new books into our house.

The novel follows the story of Dr Alfred Jones, a Civil Servant scientist specialising in fish. In particular, salmon, and their migration and breeding.

Sheikh Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama wants to introduce salmon to the Yemen, in order to bring about a miraculous culture change that he feels only salmon fishing can achieve.

The style of each chapter varies as Torday unravels the story of Jones’ involvement in this bizarre scheme. Diary excerpts, email chains, interviews and testimony, official reports and even a TV script. There’s some overlap between the timelines of each chapter, leaving the reader piecing together the overall story (told from the perspective of its main characters) in the same way as someone in charge of a national enquiry.

The parallels between the Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and the Hutton Enquiry are plain. Mr Peter Maxwell is a cheap fake version of Alistair Campbell. Prime Minister Vent owes something to Blair. And Dr Alfred Jones plays a perhaps stronger version of Dr David Kelly. But the air of unease and impending tragedy is never far away.

It’s a superb book that’s a very easy and delightful read. Highly recommended.

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