Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Book to Read on a Short Flight

Posted By Daisy

I was rushing to the airport last weekend, and had nothing to read. So I grabbed Paul Torday’s ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ from the bookshelf. It was either that or the last two weeks’ Sunday Times magazines still in their plastic wrappers on the coffee table. I really didn’t want to read it. I flicked through the in-flight magazines, and tried to sleep, and eventually reluctantly pulled the insipid-looking book from the seat pouch in front of me and began. And surprisingly, I was instantly hooked.

Told through emails, letters and diary entries, the book is about public service fisheries scientist, Alfred Jones. Jones leads a bland life with his bland wife of twenty years. For their recent wedding anniversary, he gifted her a year’s subscription to the Economist, and she got him a replacement head for his electric toothbrush. She is always abroad on some dreary management course, and their communication is mainly through emails – him telling her about his work, and her asking him to pick up her dry-cleaning.

Jones knows he wants something more from life, but doesn’t really have the impetus for change. Until he is ordered to lead a project, backed by a wealthy Sheikh, to create an artificial river in the Yemen desert, and succeed in getting thousands of imported salmon to swim up it. Although initially very reluctant, (his reputation as a scientist is on the line for even considering such a ludicrous scheme), Jones is forced to participate in the project, and meets a variety of vibrant and inspiring people throughout the course of the project. His life changes colour, he is forced to take risks, and he realises that his existence doesn’t have to involve tepid emails, Marks and Spencer’s pyjamas, or festering in a job presided over by a shiny-suited sycophantic buffoon.

I read the last third of the book on the plane home. The ending is strange and surprising – but a story as gentle as this needs an extraordinary ending. Torday achieves that great literary mechanism, whereby events, like background noise, build quietly but frantically in the last few chapters, so that by the time the grand finale occurs, all the pieces slot together and I wonder how I hadn’t predicted it earlier.

The movie was released earlier this year – Rotten Tomatoes called it ‘a charming little romantic drama’ and the Irish Times called it ‘empty guff’. My sister watched it recently and raved about it. The funniest thing is that the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board was inundated with requests from holiday-makers planning to go salmon fishing in the Yemen.

Paul Torday considers his novel to be a satire on bureaucracy. Interestingly, Torday never visited the Yemen, but rather based his descriptions on old copies of National Geographic and Lonely Planet.


No comments:

Post a Comment