SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN - Paul Torday
Review by John Bailey
Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007
It's not often, in my experience, that fishing and novels make easy partners. I don't quite know why it is: perhaps writers who fish get overly carried away with the fishing and forget to write. Or perhaps fishing is so intensely personal it doesn't translate well into novel form. But you could say love is pretty personal and there seems to be plenty of successful books about that. Or then again, you could, if you were cynical enough, say that all fishing literature is to some degree fiction. But I won't go there.
Obviously, people have tried over the decades. Brian Clarke, for example, had one of the more recent stabs. But, since The Old Man and The Sea there hasn't been that much to raise a heart beat. That's why when my girlfriend presented me with Salmon Fishing in The Yemen I was less than enthused. In fact, it lay around the house untouched, unregarded and unappreciated for quite some while. It wasn't actually until I turned the book around in my hands and saw a glowing reference from my old mate David Profumo that I actually decided to have a look.
David said this about the book - "Ingenious, witty and moving. Yes, Minister meets Monarch of the Glen." Hmm. Wasn't quite sure about that one (though I always rather fancied the rather large, bonny Scottish lass who starred in it). I don't know about you, though, I'll judge a book - probably often wrongly - by its first page and so I duly made a cup of coffee, sat down, read that first page and, dare I say it, was instantly hooked.
I'm not going to give Torday's plot away but I will say all these good things about the book. First, there's a lot of intriguing fish biology within the pages. There's probably nothing that I personally didn't actually know but the book certainly drew a lot of my indistinct knowledge into crystal clear focus. Next up, there's a huge amount of really good analysis of what makes us go fishing. I've rarely seen it better done and it's nice to think this novel might get into the hands of a wider audience than just anglers. Perhaps, then, the unbelievers in society will see there is something in fishing that transcends anything they might previously have considered. Torday gets across the mystical, spiritual side of fishing very nicely indeed and I think that's important. I know it's important to me.
The characters, too, are well-drawn. Some are plainly amusing…Alistair Campbell is thinly disguised as the rapacious, insensitive clod that in all probability he is. The Prime Minister - Jay - is a dead-ringer for our great leader Tony Blair and he's heaped with much deserved mockery. The central characters, however, Fred, Harriet and the Sheik are all delightful and powerful and the relationships between them all intensely moving.
I don't know where you stand with fiction. Chances are you're pretty busy. Chances are that if you do have a free moment you'll be looking at Fish and Fly. But, if you've got a holiday coming up, or a free few hours on a transatlantic flight I'd totally recommend this book. It won't take you much more than six hours to read it and you'll touch down at JFK more uplifted than you've ever been in the past. And that's worth a tenner of anybody's money by my reckoning.
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Articles by the same author
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- Fly Fishing for Atlantic Bass - new book reviewed
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- Wet Fly Fishing on Rivers - Essential Skills with Oliver Edwards
- Venezuelan smorgasbord at Los Roques
- Pope of the Madison
- The principles of layering - the base layer
- Game Fishing by Bob Church
- The Streamside Guide - Planning the Trip