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Paul Torday

 

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday - 23

 

Intriguing titles seem to be the order of the day. This one comes into the same category on that front as A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. Overall it was a much more satisfying read, however.

 

Salmon Fishing has a satirical feel to it and in parts is very clever and sharp in its observations. It is an enjoyable read and the messages within it are subtle. The idea of a scientist whose previous claim to fame is writing a paper on cadis flies being thrust into the limelight to work a miracle in the Yemeni desert is pure irony.

 

The only disappointment  is the ending, which I think the author felt brought a clever twist. Unfortunately it tends to let the book down in being slightly silly and rather unedifying compared to what has gone before.

 

Nevertheless the book does work on several levels. It's a story of redemption, of unrequited love, of faith in both the sacred and secular forms. It is also a wonderful comment on government spin and political correctness - something that has been dragging our country down for the past few years. Anyone who has worked in a large organisation will be able to understand the politics involved here and the way people are thrown to the wolves on the whim of a government.

 

Setting up salmon fisheries in the Yemeni desert may sound both dull and implausible. But the subject matter is just the outer shell of a variety of strands within the book and the catylist for some very sharp writing.

 

In government communications officer Peter Maxwell, Torday has invented an entirely odious character. It isn't too difficult to see parallels between him and the New Labour spin doctors that we were subjected to under the Tony Blair regime. Overall it's an original novel with bags of charm and wit.

 

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce - 18

Having thoroughly enjoyed Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, I was looking forward to reading the follow up, expecting the same kind of biting satire and unique feel. My anticipation was heightened by the title.

Sadly I found the book itself a let-down for a number of reasons.

Firstly the characters are strangely wooden, secondly the fact that the book is writtemn back to front gives it an episodic feel rather than enhancing the enjoyment (more of this later) and thirdly because it really is a very ordinary read.

That doesn't mean that it is all bad. There are some enjoyable moments, but sadly all too mnay of these come in the opening chapters before the book slides back in time.

It was a brave attempt to instil originality in starting the book at the end and then working backwards. To my mind this just doesn't work. Knowing what happens spoils it as a story. Why bother to read about the first meeting of Wilberforce and his new acquaintances when it comes at the end of the book and you know exactly what is going to happen. That just makes the later chapters turgid rather than subtle. Some would say that this is an interesting way of telling the story, but sadly it becomes the main talking point of the novel and at the end we are just left in limbo. I would have liked to have known what happens two years into the future and not two years into the past. There is an argument that the style allows one to be almost a voyeur in the life of the central character, but I don't really buy into this.

Ultimately it's a brave attempt to be different but one that backfires. There is little of the originality and characterisation that made Salmon Fishing such a delight