Thursday, May 17, 2012
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Paul Torday
As I'm reviewing this book, which I was halfway through when my e-reader had a glitch, you can assume that the problem is fixed. Well, you'd be half right. One of the problems is fixed & I have no idea how we fixed it. I find that's often the way with me & technology. It's a fluke if something electrical starts working again & I can never work out how I fixed it. My friend P came over to hold my hand & we updated the firmware (which was already up to date ) & attempted to update the Reader software but the updates wouldn't work. However, I accidentally tapped on a purchased e-book that I hadn't been able to access & I was able to get in to it. By that stage I wasn't looking for reasons I was just pleased to be able to read a book I'd paid for. I still can't sync with the Reader software though. We uninstalled & reinstalled the software & I tried a couple of other clever ideas of P's but no luck. Trying to contact Sony Support by phone or email is a nightmare so I may just have to take it back to the Sony Centre as I've only had the reader 4 months...
Anyway, enough of my technological woes. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a book about a project that, on the face of it, seems to be impossible. A very rich Yemeni landowner, Sheikh Muhammad, wants to introduce salmon fishing into his country. He instructs his estate managers to investigate the possibilities & Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the project manager, contacts Dr Fred Jones of the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence. Fred's initial reaction is that the idea is ridiculous but he is pressured by the head of his department to meet with Harriet.
Harriet & Fred meet Sheikh Muhammad at his estate in the Scottish Highlands & Fred begins to see that the Sheikh is not just a rich dilettante but a serious fisherman & a man with a real vision for the future of his country. Unfortunately not everyone in the Yemen feels the same way & the Sheikh is in danger from religious & political extremists who see the project as yet another imposition of the West & the Sheikh as a traitor. Fred's scepticism diminishes as he becomes interested in the project from a scientific & logistical point of view. He also becomes more involved with Harriet although she is engaged to a soldier serving in the Middle East. Fred's marriage to Mary, a financial advisor, is tepid to say the least & his experiences with the Sheikh & Harriet expand his horizons & lead him to reassess his life.
The project is hijacked by political considerations in the UK as well. The PM's communications advisor, Peter Maxwell, sees it as the perfect good news story from the Middle East in contrast to the usual stories of death & destruction. As the problems of transporting fish to the Yemen, creating a suitable environment for them & eventually creating a new industry to being prosperity to the Yemen are being overcome, Maxwell's main priority is the chance for a photo opportunity for the PM at the opening.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is in the form of emails, diary entries, extracts from Peter Maxwell's memoirs & the interviews at the enquiry that takes place after the events at the opening ceremony. The reader isn't aware of what has happened until the end of the book & the ending is quite different from that of the recent movie. I enjoyed the movie, it's what prompted me to read the book, but it didn't have the satirical edge of the novel. The ending of the book is quite sombre as Fred reflects on the project & the way it changed his life.
Peter Maxwell is the typical political manipulator, ready to dump the project when the fishermen of Britain object to the salmon being taken from their rivers to stock the Sheikh's wadi but happy to jump back on the bandwagon when he realises that all those fishermen vote & would love to see the PM in waders with a salmon caught in the Yemen.
The Sheikh is an interesting character. A man so rich he doesn't have to count the cost of anything. He drinks whisky in Scotland but only water at home in deference to his Islamic heritage. He's a man of faith who inspires practical, unemotional Fred to embrace a seemingly laughable idea & eventually believe in his vision. There's a lot of detail about salmon breeding, salmon fishing & salmon culture. I probably know more than I needed to know but I enjoyed reading about it. It certainly didn't feel as though the author crammed in every bit of his research because Fred was obsessed with his work & his single-mindedness was an important part of the story.
I enjoyed reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It's drily funny, romantic & full of obscure information about salmon that I probably won't be able to forget.