SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN Paul Torday
Some novels tell stories through diary entries. Some, through e-mails. Some, though letters. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen uses all of these, in addition to interrogations, newspaper reports and more. What ought to have been a shapeless hodge-podge is instead a charming first novel.
It deals with the London-based Dr Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist, asked to implement a project at the whim of an influential sheikh to introduce the pleasures of salmon fishing to the citizens of the Yemen. Also involved is the charming Harriet, working as consultant. Though Dr Jones pooh-poohs the idea, the Prime Minister’s director of communications sees this as a way to divert the media’s attention, showcasing Anglo-Yemeni cultural and scientific co-operation. Subplots involve Dr Jones’ strained relationship with his career-obsessed wife and Harriet’s concern over the fate of her boyfriend, a soldier in the Iraq.
As a satire on the habits of media-savvy politicians, it works well; as a novel, there’s no denying that most characters are a bit flat and the narrative devices wear thin after a while. (Perhaps to offset this, Torday opts for a farcical and then bittersweet ending.) Adjust your expectations, and it’ll make for a diverting evening.
Worth your while? Yes, if all you’ve been reading lately are novels dealing with the existential angst of alienated characters at war with soulless universe.