Sunday, June 15, 2014

Going Against the Flow?: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
Harcourt, 2007

In an effort to expand my reading horizons, I am taking on my goal of reading more widely and taking on more books outside the world of YA. Going through my Goodreads account, I visited my to-read shelf to see what "grown up books" I had listed, was charmed by the summary of Paul Torday's debut novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and decided to give it a shot.

Dr. Alfred Jones is a fisheries specialist and very much a facts and figures kind of man. So when he receives an email from Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot who says her client, a wealthy Sheikh, wants his expert help to introduce the sport of salmon fishing to his home country of the Yemen, he laughs it off. It can't be done. Science says so. But the Sheikh is a visionary man of faith with deep belief in his dream. With limitless resources, could the impossible become possible? And if people could salmon fish in the Yemen, what other impossibilities can become realities?

This book had an incredibly strong start, immediately engaging me as a reader in terms of characterization, plot, and presentation. The epistolary novel is told in multiple formats: emails, office memos, reports, even diary entries. Characters are quickly established and the variety of entries allow for quick pacing. I was eager to see what would become of these skeptics - some scientists, some politicians, some bureaucrats - and if the Sheikh's extraordinary idea would succeed. However, the second half of the novel lost much of the whimsy that had captured me in the first place. Entries became longer (hearing now from mostly two or three characters, one of whom I found consistently annoying) and the political satire became much more heavy-handed. The ending, therefore, felt rather flat. This is most likely a result of my expectations - I was more focused on the aspects of this story examining people's ability to adapt and grow (and dare I say it, dream or believe), however the author's focus was the opposite, on how our survival instinct and adaptability are not always the same thing.

In short, I'm happy that I finally gave this book a chance. If you are a fan of satire, especially that which pokes fun at trying to get anything done when the government is involved, then pick this up from your local library. I will say that I have seen the 2011 film adaptation of this book and enjoyed it much better. Hollywood, as it tends to do, changed the ending, but in doing so I believe they made it stronger. I do not believe that all books or stories should have happy endings, merely ones that do the story justice, and to me the film does a better job of that than the novel it is based on.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

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