Friday, 18 March 2011

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Synopsis - When he is asked to become involved in a project to create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen, fisheries scientist Dr Alfred Jones rejects the idea as absurd.  But the proposal catches the eye of several senior British politicians.  So Fred finds himself forced to set aside his research and instead figure out how to fly ten thousand salmon to a desert country - and persuade tham to swim there...
As he embarks on an extraordinary journey of faith, the diffident Dr Jones will discover a sense of belief and a capacity for love, that surprises himself and all who know him.

Review - This book is the debut novel from Paul Torday and it is quite a book.  Torday shows an accurate perception of the political and bureaucratic operations of government departments and a witty commentary on the Blair era.  This book is not written as a narrative in the more usual storytelling style but as a document of letters, emails and interviews between the departments and characters who make up the story.  Dr Jones works for the National Centre for Fisheries and Excellence, a part of DEFRA as a scientist.  He is approached about the salmon fishing project but instantly sees that it is not viable.  However, his letter stating this fact is not taken well by the estate agent whose rich client, a Yemeni Sheikh is prepared to finance this scheme.  The well heeled agent then uses her contacts in government to pressurise NCFE by making it political.  Alfred's ambitious and extremely selfish wife with whom he is locked in a loveless marriage has no interest in the project or Alfred and is quite scathing, she totally dissociates herself when she is given the opportunity to head up her bank's European office in Geneva.  Alfred is pushed into setting aside his other work to pursue this unusual project.  Once the project takes off Alfred works more closely with Harriet the agent on whom he develops a crush.  He gets to know the Sheikh who becomes his employer once the government decide to wipe their hands of the initiative.  There are some interesting characters in the book besides Alfred and his wife.  His immediate boss David who features little, is typical of the ambitious civil servant, and so is Peter Maxwell ( a Peter Mandelson type figure) the Prime Minister's spin doctor, typical of the politician.  Harriet Chetwode-Talbot is a strong intelligent woman but she falls apart in the end when she learns her fiance has been killed on a secret mission in the Middle East.  Alfred falls for Harriet but it is not meant to be, however he learns how to love and realises that his marriage is a sham.  The Sheikh is an inspirational character who has a strong belief in God.  He believes that it is God's will that the project should succeed and that hope and faith should be placed in that.  The Sheikh finances the project as he believes that salmon fishing will bring a sense of peace and calm to the Yemeni people.  Such is his belief that those around him, Alfred, Harriet and the Sheikh's gillie Colin MacPherson are driven along with him.  5*

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