03 December 2007

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This is such a weird little book, quite unlike any other novel I've read recently, but it's just a joy. It's the first book by its author, Paul Torday, and one of a handful of books I've picked up after reading reviews in The Economist. Thank goodness one of their reviewers has an oddball taste in literature because I haven't read a bad one from their selection yet; this may be the best yet. The rest of the review follows...

The author and the book are fully and completely British in every way, so there are some things here that are confusing to a yank. Yemen is referred to as "the" Yemen every single time it's referred to at all, a Britishism dating back to the Empire that I've never fully understood, and there are extracts from Hansard, without much explanation of what that is. However, the book contains a handy glossary, which is part of the narrative and used for mild comic effect--a "gillie" is described as a "man or boy employed on many Scottish rivers to stand at your elbow and explain why you are unlikely to catch a fish wih your present technique." Herein the Hansard is described as a the official record of the houses of Parliament.

There is nothing at all bad about any of this of course. And there's not much to complain about in the book itself, either. The characters are drawn well and are intriguing, the various plot threads are wound tightly together and each affects the other in meaningful ways. The twin romances surrounding the main character, Dr. Jones (if indeed he is the main character), are so excruciatingly well drawn you practically fall in love with him, too. This is a good sign.

Of course the premise of the book is ridiculous: a plan to introduce highland salmon fishing to the Yemen. The salmon would swim up a seasonal stream during the monsoon season, spawn, and then... well, then, says the project's creator, that's up to Dr. Jones to figure out what to do with them. Of course Dr. Jones is not just skeptical at first; he dictates a memo indicating precisely how stupid the idea is and that he won't waste a moment's time on it. Then, of course, politics gets in the way and off we go.

I loved this book, and the thing is, despite it's quirkiness (that's the word I was looking for earlier), I'd be happy recommending it to most any of my friends. It's just that charming and fun, and it's a quick read. This may be the best novel I've read this year.

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