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Dr Andrew Jones, a scientist working at the Fisheries section of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural affairs, is told that an important and wealthy sheikh in the Yemen wants to introduce salmon fishing into the Wadi Aleyn there (which really exists), and that the Prime Minister is very keen to help him in order to strengthen British influence in that part of the world.

(It takes some time before the Prime Minister is named: here he is called Jay Vent, clearly standing for Tony Blair. His crude and smug spin doctor is here called Peter Maxwell. (Geddit?) The Iraq War is in progress. There will, quite late in the book, be a reference to “Operation Telic 2”, which, with the help of the Internet, enables us to locate the story in 2003.)

Of course Andrew, who enjoyed and knew all about salmon fishing himself, ridicules the idea: the conditions in the Yemen are totally unsuitable for such an undertaking; but when he is threatened with the sack if he refuses at least to explore how such a scheme might be realized, he reluctantly sets to work and comes up with how, at enormous expense, the things might be done.

The book consists of memos, reports, interviews, press items, emails, minutes of an enquiry, and especially extracts from Andrew’s diary, in which he comes a across as a scientist, a Humanist, a feminist, and occasionally, especially at the beginning of the book, as just a little prissy and Pooterish. He is very depressed because his marriage to a very ambitious wife is on the rocks.

He is introduced to Sheikh Muhammad on one of the latter’s visit to his mansion close by a salmon river near Inverness. The Sheikh is profoundly religious, and he sees salmon fishing as one activity in which members of all classes feel a sense of unity and peace: so he is doing Allah’s work by promoting it in the Arab world. He thought that if you have faith, everything is possible. He exudes a gentle charisma and makes everyone around him feel calm. Andrew’s view of the world will slowly be transformed by contact with the Sheikh and, later, by his experience among the devout Yemenis.

In the pages which follow, all kinds of snags appear. One of these is that, when the news of the project breaks, Al Qaeda wants the Sheikh eliminated.

Andrew is working with Harriet Chetwood-Talbot from the Land Agency which deals with the Sheikh’s affairs in Scotland and to which the Sheikh’s idea had been put forward in the first place. Part of the story is about the relationship between the two of them. She is engaged to Captain Robert Matthews who is in Iraq on so secret a mission that she cannot communicate with him.

Eventually Andrew and Harriet fly out to the Yemen (and Andrew’s diary describes the scenery there beautifully). They see the work being done on the project, and at last the day of the opening arrives. The Prime Minister and his spin doctor arrive. The Iraq War had become very unpopular; but the photoshoot of the ceremony should win over the votes of many of the four million anglers in the United Kingdom. What happened then is of course the dramatic climax of the novel.

At times the book sags a bit, with a certain amount of repetition. But the story, the satirical take on government, the character and reactions of Andrew, the knowledge of salmon fishing – all these are very enjoyable.
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on 17 October 2016
My husband really enjoyed the first part of this book and the humourous parts, but felt that the author lost his way with the romantic storyline.
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on 19 January 2013
It's easy to see why the literary prize judges wet themselves with excitement over this: Like the king in Danny Kate's King's Magic Suit, they were fools, duped. The script writers of that magnificent and most touching film virtually had to tear up the script and write it again. Res Ipsa Loquitor.
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on 31 October 2016
A cross-between Dairy of a Nobody and Yes Minister, interspersed with beautiful lyrical description of the Yemen and the behaviour of salmon, I found this novel highly readable. The book was often funny but didn't make me laugh out aloud; it was a dry, elegant wit, hidden below the pedantries and manipulation of the characters. Fred Jones, fisheries scientist, starts off being stiff and formal and taking himself too seriously, then later, as the vision of the mystical sheikh takes hold of him, he opens out, gains emotional intelligence and a sense of full passionate engagement with the apparently impossible project. I found that transformation very interesting. The style of the novel, told in emails, letters, diary entries, interview records and news reports, was intriguing, and I enjoyed readng them, though when I came to the sections about Peter Maxwell the government spin doctor I was getting rather bored. There are often comical touches at the end of these passages, but I found myself being dragged under by his very mediocrity and small-mindedness I loved the philosophy of the sheikh and the strength of his belief in the seemingly impossible, and the way in which his belief is infectious. He is a man who looks away from the difficulties and "counts on the invisible presence of God", and the "impossible" project is realised. My biggest problem with the book was the ending; although the sheikh's faith is fulfilled, so many characters either die or lose out, I wondered what the author was trying to say through this. I discovered through reading interviews that Paul Torday claimed he was writing about the folly of of the west interfering in the Middle East. However it is as always, in the heart and mind of the reader that a book finds its true meaning.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 June 2016
I bought the Audible version; one of the best narration so I've listened to, with excellent character voices by John Sessions and a guest spot from Andrew Marr.

I avoided this book when it was first published; everyone seemed to be raving about it and it was marketed as romantic fiction. I think that's a great disservice to a book which is a really well written satire, exploring a range of themes.

The story centres on a proposal by a rich Sheik to introduce salmon fishing in the Yemen. To do so, he uses the services of a British land and property company, which in turn seeks advice from a fishery expert, Dr Alfred Jones, employed by DEFRA. The proposal catches the eye of a Communications guy in the Prime Minister's private office and he sees potential as a huge, stage managed PR opportunity. There are a couple of sub plots involving wife and fiancée of the two central characters and whilst these individuals don't feature significantly, they add to the drama and character development.

The actual story is relatively straightforward; the odds are stacked against success and in the closing chapters, the unexpected happens; the plot has moments of drama and really kept my interest. But this is a tour de force in terms of characters. Dr Jones is a typical scientist. He's bound by order and convention so it's interesting to watch his perspective soften and change as the story moves forward. The machinations of the duplicity and spin of various Government officials is outstanding. It's humorous, true to life and filled with pomposity. The shadowy sheik turns out to be a visionary, filled with wisdom and the stereotypical images of Middle East meets west are challenged. It's an engrossing story and rewarding read.
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This is a wonderful novel which is funny, satirical, warm and moving by turn. There's a quirky and charming sense of Britishness about it, not least in the mad idea of bringing salmon to the Yemen desert. But beneath the comedy and the satire there's a sense of humanity at the centre of the story that makes it feel more weighty and serious than it might appear on the surface.

The story is told through a series of communiqués: emails, letters, transcripts, extracts from books etc. I particularly like the way this allows characters to reveal - and, sometimes, condemn - themselves through their own speech. Other reviewers are right that we do need to suspend our disbelief about quite a lot of this, especially the narrativised nature of what are supposedly interviews, but I was happy to do so.

There are points at which Torday slightly over-plays his comic hand: the chilly wife who wears baggy grey and brown suits even at home, and makes daft pronouncements advocating medicinal soap over perfume, for example. On the other hand, I like the way Torday doesn't tie everything up neatly at the end.

Overall this reminds me a little of Evelyn Waugh in its ability to mingle the comic, the cynical, the romantic and the tragic. This feels remarkably easy to read but it's also a book with heart.
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on 11 August 2007
I loved this book, which I read in a single day in between digging spuds and plaiting onions. This would be the perfect read to devour while lying on a hot beach somewhere, well, hot; or lying in a hammock in an English summer idyll while bees hum and warm wind blows across the sweet grass. Critics will be able to find faults if they wish, but I am a glass half-full man personally. I have also spent much time in the Middle East and happily recognised the authoritative tone of another well-travelled author who has soaked up the atmosphere like a sponge, and then gently squeezed it out -- spices, smells, heat and dust alike -- over his manuscript. Each page made me want to turn to the next, and if that is not the definition of a really gripping book I am a bit of a loss to think up another. The story, told (as noted below) in various communications' media reads like a film script: I could actually see the events unfold, which I liked enormously. The absence of graphic sex scenes was a welcome relief and complemented the deliberately cool, calm -- almost serene -- tone of the storytelling. The whole idea of transplanting salmon to Yemen and to persuade them to swim up a wadi is absolutely barking, and therefore a brilliant plot device, as the author's grasp of engineering detail is put to good use; so much so the whole incredible concept becomes a credible outcome. And when this is linked to the Sheikh's philosophical view that fishermen tend to be gentle and peaceable, and therefore introducing his people to this concept has got to better than settling arguments with an AK-47 or RPG-7 (which are weapons of choice of some of the tribes) then the whole Alice in Wonderland fable folds neatly around itself. The characters are well-drawn and credible; satire nicely mirroring life in the thinly disguised personae of Blair and Campbell and their Machiavellian relationship, along with the spineless civil servants of the NCFE (why are they called 'civil'?) The contemporary sub-plots add depth and interest, but do not threaten to swamp the main theme. This story has its own logic and pace and tells itself beautifully. Dr Jones is a quiet hero suffering quietly from losing love, a lost love and seeking some sort of personal redemption. The saintly patience of Sheikh Muhammad is incarnated in Dr Jones' ultimately successful efforts to make dreams come true, despite all the naysayers and the various cynical attempts to make political capital out of the Sheikh's vision. As the Omanis say (where my family and I lived extremely happily for three years): Patience is the key to Paradise.
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on 19 May 2010
I loved reading this book, oddly having been put off by the title originally. Because I don't know much about salmon I didn't appreciate the exquisite humour of attempting to introduce them to the desert wadis of the Yemen. The bewildered fisheries scientist, hitherto expert only in the caddis fly, but finding himself awash in an ocean of political spin was a glorious character. I was utterly gripped by the structure which, while amusing us, also hinted at some catastrophe to come. I really recommend anyone reads this book, for originality, humour, setting and general entertainment value.
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on 18 October 2014
This is an extraordinary book. When you see the title, you are most likely going to say, “What? How can there be salmon fishing in a country like Yemen?” But this is what the book is about. A Sheikh who loves salmon fishing in Scotland, has a project to develop the same in his home country of the Yemen.

Entwined within the development of this project, are many strands, some farcical, some comic and yet in all a frighteningly realistic look at human beings and the institutions in our countries. We get a frightening insight into how human beings are motivated and how they can find justification for whatever they want to do. At the same time we learn about how individuals and events can change beliefs and lives of people.

Paul Torday has shown an amazing insight into how decision makers operate, whether it is civil servants, politicians or individuals who have the money and the clout to make and put into operation what they believe in In many ways it is frightening to see how, for example, the power of the media can make someone like the prime minister make a decision that may not be soundly based.
At the same time the book is hilarious. A civil servant cannot see how absurd it would be to have a television programme, based on its success in the home country, that would give the winner of a contest a dishwater, with the latest technology, as prize to someone who may be living in such unfavourable circumstances that they not even have access to electricity 24 hours a day. Even more funny, but sad is the setting up of a call centre for bereavement in Hyderabad as the Ministry of Defence in Britain cannot cope with the volume of enquiries. The information from the Ministry stresses that there could be linguistic difficulties while the staff are being trained. Callers are reassured with the knowledge that the bereavement advice is free, although the call charge maybe 50p.

The style of writing is interesting. There is narrative from the author, as well as from some of the characters. Information is also given by way of email exchanges, extracts from the Parliamentary Committee’s proceedings from personal diaries. This variety of presentation does not hinder the flow of the story.

A well-written book that also reads like a good thriller, as reader is taken aback by how the project ends.
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on 8 July 2014
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're wondering why? This may not be Science Fiction, but there is certainly a lot of technology and science to keep a geek like me interested!

I have to admit, I saw the posters and the trailer for the film. However I had heard the name of the book, but as I normally only read Science Fiction, I ignored it. Shelving this fiction on the long bookshelf of stuff that I would get around to.

It hit my radar mainly with the casting of Ewan McGregor, and given his Star Wars credentials I am always inclined to give him a favourable look, and I have rarely been disappointed. So I was on Amazon and I bought the book.

It arrived and it had a nice feel to it with his blue cover and slim feel. I picked it up and read it pretty much in forty eight hours flat. Obviously life got in the way, there is a certain amount of cooking, tidying and finding someone's PE kit that even a great book can take you away from, but this one tried very hard.

Rereading the book this weekend, I can't really pinpoint when the book grabs you, but I was taken by Dr Alfred Jones from the start.

What kept me reading was the different chapters and the styles of writing, including diary entries, police interviews, extracts from Hansard (the official record of the Houses of PArliament), letters and emails. It felt like a lot of reading I fdo which is not fiction.

It felt like I had spent a long time on the internet diving into a bunch of different texts taking on nugget of information or another and piecing the story together for myself, like some amazingly satisfying jigsaw.

Dr Alfred Jones and his relationship with Mary was beautifully drawn, and contrasted carefully against harriet and her broken love affair.
I won't say much about the story, except say its excellent, and has gone on to my much loved list straight away.

The ending in the book is different to the film, in fact the film differs in several good ways,not least in the brilliant casting of Kristin Scott Thomas. So I can recommend the film as well.

The ending of the book is better, more open, much more thought-provoking and in the end, that is why it stays with you.
Also if you're wondering, this may not be Science Fiction, but there is certainly a lot of technology and science to keep a geek like me interested!
Enjoy!

View all my reviews
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