Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – a love of letters

I have a real liking for books composed of a series of letters – I don’t know why. I’m nosy I guess. I like peering into people’s private correspondence – so I liked Salmon Fishing in the Yemen from the start. It tells the story of Alfred Jones, a stoical fisheries scientist, who is forced by his boss to take on a project that involves introducing salmon to the (very scarce) waters of the Yemen.

Fred insists it can’t be done at first, but he becomes hooked when he is drawn into the orbit of Sheikh Muhammed, the wealthy Yemeni whose dream it is to fish for salmon in his native country. Through the medium of email we learn of Fred’s loveless marriage to the iron lady of finance, Mary. Her selfish, pompous emails are so carefully composed by Torday for maximum irritation value that they made me want to scream! They also made me sympathise with and warm to Fred, who is essentially a decent, kind man – capable of love and change, as we shall see.

I don’t want to give too much away about this book because its surprising twists and turns are one of the best things about it. Oh, it has its duller moments, I’ll admit. The extracts from the unpublished memoirs of government spin doctor Peter Maxwell, while they do the job of showing him to be the odious creep that he is, are a bit tedious. But the beauty of this book’s format means that these intrusions are relatively brief, and we can soon get back to the story of Fred and the Sheikh – and Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the Sheikh’s right-hand woman, who Fred admires from afar.

Will Fred break away from his harridan of a wife? Can there ever be any hope for him and Harriet? Will Islamic fundamentalists succeed in their plan to assassinate the Sheikh for introducing the conqueror’s ungodly sport of fishing to Yemen? Will the project be the downfall of all involved, including the prime minister and his lackey Peter Maxwell? And finally, and most importantly, will salmon ever swim down the Wadi Aleyn?

There’s only one way to find out…

….until later this year, that is, when the film version is due to be released, starring Ewan McGregor (who I simply cannot imagine as the middle-aged, perennially uncool Jones) and Emily Blunt (who would no doubt make an excellent Harriet). I hope they do the book justice but I can’t help but feel that they could have chosen a more appropriate and believable Jones. We shall see…

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2 Comments

Filed under fiction

2 responses to “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – a love of letters

  1. Sounds wonderful – I’ve seen this book around, but never really picked it up as well.. salmon fishing isn’t really very interesting. Yes, I know, shouldn’t judge a book by its title and all that.

    Speaking of books in the form of letters: 84 Charing Cross Road is fantastic. If you haven’t, you must read it.

  2. Indeed sounds wonderful! I don’t want to give too much away about this book because its surprising twists and turns are one of the best things about it.

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