June 10th, 2008


Faith moving mountains

I picked up Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday at Easter but have only just got round to reading it. Now I see it everywhere and I wonder if it’s one of those books people buy and don’t read? If so, they’re missing out. I had trouble getting into it because it starts with letters and I’ve never been good with epistolary novels (must finish Evelina one day). I was also struggling for the first third of the book to think who or what it so much reminded me of. The answer came in a flash: Michael Frayn and in particular his brilliant novel A Landing on the Sun. To be compared with Frayn is very flattering for any author, IMO, and I think the comparison stands up.

The plot of the novel revolves around an apparently hopeless project: to fulfil the dream of a wealthy sheikh by introducing salmon to the Yemen. In telling the story Paul Torday takes some hefty swipes at aspects of modern life while explaining the joys of fishing to those, like me, who have never experienced them. It is a book of contrasts: West against East; the lies and self interest of government against the purity of disinterested scientific research, love and faith. I’m not surprised to find that the author had a successful career in engineering before writing this book because it’s such a mature work. I ended up agreeing with the critics who called it ‘a wonderful book’.