Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2007) (Phoenix)
Paul Torday
Grade: A-
Genre: fiction
Source: own
General RBC 2015: A book that became a film 

Dr Alfred Jones, a respected fisheries scientist with the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence and an avid fisherman, has been tasked with the impossible: to introduce salmon to the Yemen. Coerced by his boss and political manoeuvring higher-up, Fred takes on the project against his better judgement. But as time passes, he can’t help but be enticed by the conviction of Sheikh Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama, Yemeni national who is funding the project and who is deeply passionate about bringing fly-fishing to the desert. Working closely with the Sheikh’s agent, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot of Fitzharris & Price, this outlandish task sees Fred out of the comforts of his office and jetting between Scotland and the Yemen, forced to deal with meddling politicians and administrators while working through a particularly rocky time in his 20-year marriage. This project is an upstream battle, defying even common sense, until he can hardly recognise the man he has become …

SFinY was adapted into a film in 2011 (it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago) starring Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt in the title roles. It was shown on television over the Christmas holidays and we watched simply because there was nothing else to watch. Unexpectedly, it was a charming and sweet film – one I might actually watch again, given the chance. So when I saw the book on the shelf in Foyles, I had to buy it to see if the source material was just as good.

In some ways it was; in others it wasn’t. I was surprised to crack open the spine and find that the novel is written and presented in the form of email exchanges, diary entries, letters, interviews and newspaper articles. Meg Cabot has written the most hilarious books via emails, voicemails and even receipts (Boy Meets Girl, The Boy Next Door, Every Boy’s Got One) and so that’s my first association when I’m confronted with a book of the same format. Thus, to find this format in SFitY was highly unexpected, but given the nature of the project and the mixed bag of opinions (to put it mildly) that it evokes in people, this was by far the best way to put all those mixed messages across. Each character or ‘voice’ had their medium of recording their experiences, whether of their own accord or from some other prompt, and it was very effective at setting out the timeline of events and pacing the storyline. Fred’s diary entries were by far my favourite and in his writings I could almost hear Ewan MacGregor speaking the words in front of me. It was bloody brilliant.

SFinY was also unexpectedly funny in both subtle and more outrageous ways. On the first front, the entire situation was just simply outrageous – I mean, salmon in the Yemen? How crazy is that? Yet, Paul Torday made the situation work and you’re increasingly pulled in, just as Fred is, as the book progresses. On the latter front, the political element was great. To explain, the sitting government are desperately in need of some good press emanating from the Middle East. Fred is coerced into consulting on the feasibility of the project, and as it’s picked up by the Prime Minister’s head of communications, Fred is forced to become more and more involved in the project to keep on his boss’s good side. It’s difficult to explain – you’re going to have to read it to see for yourself.

I’d recommend reading the book before you watch the film, if you intend to do both. I did it the other way round and while it was still a good experience, ultimately, I would have preferred the traditional route of reading the book first. The ending is radically different on multiple fronts and I’ll honestly say that I prefer the film’s version. The book’s ending left me feeling unsatisfied and almost as if it was cut short. Not a great feeling, but I can definitely see why changes were made for the film. Overall, a very uplifting story of hope, faith and hard work.

Image courtesy of Orion Books.

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