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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

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What does it take to make us believe in the impossible?
For Dr. Alfred Jones, life is a quiet mixture of civil service at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence and marriage to Mary—an ambitious, no-nonsense financier. But a strange turn of fate from an unexpected direction forces Jones to upend his existence and spend all of his time in pursuit of another man’s ludicrous dream. Can there be salmon in the Yemen? Science says no. But if resources are limitless and the visionary is inspired, maybe salmon fishing in the Yemen isn’t impossible. Then again, maybe nothing is.

329 pages, Paperback

First published February 8, 2007

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About the author

Paul Torday

17 books158 followers
Paul Torday burst on to the literary scene in 2007 with his first novel, SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN, an immediate international bestseller that has been translated into 28 languages and has been made into a film starring Ewan McGregor, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emily Blunt. His subsequent novels, THE IRRESISTIBLE INHERITANCE OF WILBERFORCE, THE GIRL ON THE LANDING, THE HOPELESS LIFE OF CHARLIE SUMMERS, MORE THAN YOU CAN SAY, THE LEGACY OF HARTLEPOOL HALL and LIGHT SHINING IN THE FOREST, were all published to great critical acclaim. He was married with two sons by a previous marriage, had two stepsons, and lived close to the River North Tyne. He died at home in December 2013.

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5 stars
2,338 (15%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,708 reviews
Profile Image for Rose.
392 reviews94 followers
January 30, 2008
The book got off to an interesting start, and held my attention, but I found it, ultimately, disappointing. Its biggest weakness was its lack of subtlety. For me, satire relies on an insidious subtlety that helps to separate it from outright farce. In this case, the satire would have been much more effective if it hadn't been applied so thickly. Some characters, especially Mary, never seem to be real people and are more like cartoon characters or pantomime dames - overdrawn and 2D, with their faults exaggerated beyond the bounds of plausibility. And some of the book was just plain weird - what was up with the sex-or-sleepwalking-or-something between Harriet and Alfred?

The format of the book made a change, but further undermined my ability to believe in the reality created within the book. No one talks like that in interviews with investigators. Some of the emails, however, were quite funny, as were some of Peter Maxwell's writings.

Parts of the book were very predictable. I didn't forsee what happened in the end, but I found it quite a flat ending. It was almost like the author got bored and didn't want to write a nice happy ending, but didn't quite know what else to do. Perhaps in the end Alfred found greater peace with himself, but most other threads were hacked off short or just unravelled.

Overall, it seemed like the author had one interesting idea but struggled to actually make an story from it or develop any of the characters beyond stock-figure goodies or baddies.
Profile Image for Claire Corbett.
Author 10 books97 followers
March 22, 2012
If I could give this book minus 10 stars, I would. Really hated this - meretricious sexist facile rubbish. The wife is a lazy stereotype, a cliched nag, the new girl smells like 'peaches.' Let's destroy the environment while having a bit of 'faith'. 'Faith' in the sense of not questioning, not using your intelligence. 'Faith' in the sheikh spending millions of pounds which belong to the people of the Yemen to fulfill his extravagant, trivial and ultimately cruel desires? Ugh ugh ugh. Exactly what the world does not need right now. My book club loved this book. Made me want to leave the book club. The film looks appalling.

You could say this is part of a new genre though, a kind of middle-aged male equivalent of 'chick-lit' wish fulfillment.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews501 followers
September 13, 2018
An absolute delightful parody/satire on politics, power and unlimited sources of money. An epistolary tale with high drama woven into the plot. I loved this relaxing read!

RECOMMENDED to lovers of British novels and everyone else who would enjoy the beautiful scenery of Yemen, and the intrigue behind belief of any kind.

The book won a Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comedy in 2007. Well deserved.
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,239 reviews2,229 followers
December 5, 2018
Short Review

Eccentric, rich Arab sheikh employs diffident English scientist in impossible project and all goes to hell on a handcart, while the nincompoops in the parliament keep on debating endlessly.

Long Review

The impossibly high profit margins in the oil business have made the Gulf countries a tad careless about money – so they think up projects left and right, and employ consultants to consider the feasibility. For the said consultants – mostly from the West – this is manna from heaven, because you get paid whatever happens. So dozens of projects are mooted, and consultants scurry like busy ants conceptualising, designing and implementing them. Money flows like water; there is plenty of employment; economy booms everywhere – and it’s happy days all over. (At least, this was the situation until the bottom of the oil barrel came tumbling down. Now it’s hard times.)

I know it firsthand. I was part of a British consulting company in Abu Dhabi for ten long years, basking in the oil glow. In my time, I have seen a lot of projects mushrooming only to go into the cold storage after the conceptual and design stage are completed, on the basis of economic viability. But hey, no one was complaining, as it was keeping us in the clover.

But thankfully, I was never asked to do anything as outlandish as introducing salmon into the Yemen...


This is the premise of Paul Torday’s brilliant novel. Sheikh Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama of Yemen has an estate in Scotland, from where he has picked up a love for salmon fishing. Now, he wants to introduce this sport to his native country. The problem is, salmon are fish which live in temperate climates, in water bodies of moderate temperatures: whereas the Yemen is a desert, where only the tail end of the monsoon provides a limited period of aquatic sufficiency. But the sheikh is a believer, for whom faith can achieve anything, and he approaches his estate agents of Fitzharris & Price to find the appropriate people to do this for him.

Doctor Alfred Jones of the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence is the obvious choice, because he is so good at his profession: and because of the same reason, he refuses go forward with this hare-brained scheme. Well, now a bit of arm-twisting is in order! Harriet Chetwood-Talbot of Fitzharris & Price use her governmental connections to put the screws on poor Dr. Jones, with the result that the scientist is given the ultimatum to either comply or quit by his stuffed-shirt boss David Sugden. Jones’s financial circumstances do not give him the luxury of throwing away his job, so he bites the bullet and surges ahead.

Dr. Jones and Harriet Chetwood-Talbot, along with the sheikh, make an odd threesome pursuing an impossible dream. But as the project takes more and more concrete shape, the Arab manages to infect the Englishman with some of his faith: Alfred Jones starts to believe that the project will work. This provides succour to him in a most crucial period of his life, when his wife is away in Geneva pursuing a financial career more lucrative than his own, and his marriage is almost on the rocks. He also has to contend with his growing attraction for Harriet, who is battling her own demons with her fiancé stuck in Iraq.

And in the midst of this human drama, where the Prime Minister and his cohorts provide the comic relief, the story moves to its unexpected climax.


This is an unusual novel. It starts out as a hilarious satire but the tone becomes more pensive towards the middle. It’s written in epistolary format, which is a brilliant touch from the author: it allows him to introduce so many unreliable narrators, and sketch a character through his/ her authorial voice. And he has done an excellent job of characterisation. I liked Alfred Jones and Harriet Talbot; disliked Mary, Jones’s wife; despised Peter Maxwell, the PM’s Director of Communications (though he is funny!); and absolutely loved the eccentric sheikh, who succeeded in making the crazy idea of introducing salmon to Yemen almost spiritual. The low-key love affair between Dr. Jones and Harriet is also superbly handled - I had thought such subtlety had died out in literature.

The other positive thing about this novel is its subtle interplay of the Middle East and England. We have British soldiers in war-torn Iraq on one side; we have Alfred and Harriet being watered and fed by an unknown Bedouin girl in Yemen, on the other. On the one hand, a land which flows seamlessly through time, its past and present merging: on the other, a country which has lost its spirit and replaced the abode of God with the supermarket. As the narrative progresses, we see a synthesis emerging (perhaps) before being rudely interrupted by an act of God.

The only thing that jarred for me was where the author seemed to have forgotten that his characters were being interrogated, and he made them deliver long-winded speeches which are more like written passages. People don’t speak like that! He could have used journal entries (as he does elsewhere) for such stuff. However, the official ministerial correspondence, the interviews with Peter Maxwell, excerpts from his unpublished biography, the questions asked in parliament... these are terrific. Paul Torday comes into his own when satirising the powers that be.

This is an excellent offbeat novel, sickly-sweet and poignant.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,341 reviews115 followers
April 22, 2022
This was an absolute delight!

Sheikh Mohammed has a vision, Vision 2020, he wants to take salmon fishing from the Highlands in Scotland, to his country, the Yemen.

From the very first pages I knew this was going to be an entertaining read. The emails and memos from the British government wanting to be involved with the project because they want to be seen to be involved in non military action in the Middle East to the Scientists shaking their heads in astonishment at the proposal, I found this hilarious.

A stinging satire on British politics and the ways of the Middle East, this was a fun read.

Four stars. Very entertaining.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
840 reviews
September 6, 2014
This was a great read! One of those books that is a good story right from the start. I was initially a bit surprised to see that the story was told through a collection of correspondence, diary entries, government documents, interviews and so on and this made me a little uncertain about this book, but that didn't last any longer than a couple of pages. I don't know why I was unsure about the format at first, as it reminded me a bit of 84, Charing Cross Road and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with their collections of correspondence and stories told through this, and I loved both of those books.

I saw the movie when it first came out, but don't really recall much about it, other than that I enjoyed it. I don't even remember the ending, which people tell me is different to the book (being more suitable for Hollywood than Torday's ending), but I found the book's ending quite poignant. It has definitely made me want to watch the movie again.

I can't explain what it was about the book that I enjoyed so much - I felt sorry for poor Fred, being taken for granted by his wife, and inadvertently caught up in a mess of politics in his work. I also felt for Harriet, deeply in love with, and engaged to be married to, a man being sent into Iraq and all the strain that this occasions. And I liked the Sheikh, whose idea it was to get salmon running in a wadi in the Yemen as a way of developing harmony and a sense of peace between his people. I still can't explain why I liked this story as much as I did, but it made me happy and it made me sad at different times and it was just a wonderful story.
Profile Image for Liz.
363 reviews1 follower
December 26, 2015
Holy boring drivel, Batman!

Seriously, this book is boooooooring. I can see what Torday was going for, and there was clearly a great deal of research that went into the writing of 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'. But unfortunately a well-researched subject matter and good literary intentions do not, a good novel, make.

His mish-mash of formats was, I believe, intended to liven up the story somewhat, and keep the reader interested by constantly changing the narrative voice. A good plan in theory, but with 2 major flaws:

Flaw number 1: Torday did NOT pay close enough attention to the most likely phrasing and vocabulary used in some of the formats. For example, in a formal (and investigative?) interview setting, nobody in their right mind would use phrases like: "the dark waters flowed before me" when describing their approach to a river. They would be far more likely to simply say: "I walked up to the river. The water was dark". And that is just one example. There are also letters sent between characters containing long and elaborate narrations of the recent happenings which were completely out of place in that particular format. So that annoyed me.

Flaw number 2: Like I said, I appreciate that Torday tried to make his novel as engaging as he could (what writer would purposefully set out to bore their audience to tears?... except maybe Tolkein...), but try as he might to create tension and write deep, interesting characters, it remains a fact that this book is about salmon. FUCKING. SALMON. There's only one way that I enjoy salmon, and it is on a plate with a light yet flavoursome sauce. And even then, I can think of plenty more interesting fish to eat. The subject matter of introducing salmon into the Yemen is probably about one of the dullest concepts for a novel that I have ever witnessed. And the boredom was further exacerbated by the numerous, lengthy and, in my opinion, totally superfluous explanations of the optimal conditions that salmon need in order to survive. I mean... like why??

To conclude, it's safe to say I did not enjoy this book. I cannot explain why I find it SO difficult to DNF books, even when I'm not enjoying them. I think with 'Salmon Fishing' I did what I always do in this situation. I keep telling myself that it will get better, and that I just need to "get into it" and then it will be great (it was, after all, highly acclaimed by the Guardian), until I'm about two thirds of my way into the book, at which point I find it impossible to give up reading. Though, admittedly, I did skim read most of the last third, paying only just enough attention to catch the revelation at the end - a dramatic event which was incredibly incongruous with the rest of the book.

Really wouldn't bother with this. Maybe read it if you really like salmon.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 28 books392 followers
April 6, 2017
You know this, right? Yemen, previously called “The Yemen,” lies on the fringe of the Arabian Peninsula as is best known today as a world-class producer of sand, desert heat, and political violence. Salmon are, of course, cold-water fish that are challenging to catch with a rod and reel but taste all the better once caught. So, we’re on the same page, yes?

Now consider the chances of finding a novel that adroitly mixes not just Yemen and salmon fishing but also the British Parliament, Al Qaeda, a mystical sheikh, the art of public relations, a sad love story, and a journey of self-discovery. Before I read this book, I would have defied anyone to accomplish that seemingly impossible task. But Paul Torday has managed to do so, brilliantly, producing a satirical treatment of British politics that is alternately affecting and screamingly funny.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the first of British author Paul Torday’s six novels to date. Written when he was 59 years old at the end of a successful business careeer, the book reportedly allowed him to write about what he knows best (as every teacher urges in Creative Writing 101). As you might guess, what Paul Torday appears to know best are salmon fishing and the Middle East, and the resulting novel is the unique expression of a genuine talent.

(From www.malwarwickonbooks.com)
Profile Image for Connie Kuntz.
491 reviews27 followers
July 8, 2020
I found this hilarious, compelling, political, and inspiring. Plus, I learned all sorts of neat facts about Yemen, salmon, and fishing. And the message about the stirring peacefulness of humans being versus adults conversing is beautiful.

Here is a little bit about the story: A shiek wishes to integrate salmon and the sport of salmon fishing into Yemen. He doesn't just want a couple tanks of salmon and a fish farm. He wants salmon to become a part of the environment. He wants to drastically alter the ecosystem so that people will fish in Yemen.

The shiek is smart. He is aware that salmon are cold and wet, and that Yemen is hot and dry. However, he believes this is a peace-seeking, god-inspired project. He figures he'd rather spend his money on something unique than on building another mosque. In spite of all the protests, he is going to find the right people to make sure the project happens. He is not only smart, he is very rich.

Here is a sample of some of the people who become involved in the project:

Private Contractors
Government Officials
Goat Herders

This novel tracks the adult conversation among the aforementioned adults (plus others) and it is hilarious and compelling. I hope you read it.

Personal Notes:
Here are a few things I want to look up later:
Understand the rainy "season" a bit better.
Size of Yemen versus, say, Illinois.
Capital city, main source of income, etc.
Travel to and from.
Understand the distance between UK and Middle East a bit more.
That kind of stuff...
Profile Image for Laure.
134 reviews66 followers
February 7, 2017
Well, having salmon introduced in the Yemeni waters is the least of the preposterous going-ons in this book. Where to start? It could have been a sweet story but the characters are not up to scratch - I found the politicians too inept to be true for example - and the epistolary style is full of unconvincing moments, and what about that ending, lol. Disappointing.
Profile Image for F.
294 reviews251 followers
November 12, 2018
Enjoyed this much more than i was expecting.

Loved having the story told through the format of emails, diary entries, interviews & articles.

Want to see the film now.

Easy short chapters, interesting characters and plenty comic relief.
Profile Image for Gorab.
611 reviews99 followers
July 12, 2022
Started off well with some laugh out loud moments. Loved the concept and the narration style.
An ambitious project of the book title, backed by a rich Sheikh. Causing turbulence along the scientific community, the political (and geographical) aspects, the whos and whats and hows in the form of journal entries, email conversations, file reports and interviews.

But the magic faded out slowly around half the mark, and it started appearing repetitive.
913 reviews389 followers
May 29, 2013
Meh. I guess I'll give this a three. It was okay I guess. But I didn't love it.

Maybe it's a function of the ADD/internet-addled generation, but the new epistolary novel seems to be a pastiche of e-mails, interviews, memos, etc., all of which are far more informative and lyrical than actual e-mails, interviews, and memos would be in real life. After tolerating this style in Where'd You Go, Bernadette and The Lawgiver, it's getting old for me and was a bit of a turnoff in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. (Just as an aside -- does anyone actually call "Yemen" "The Yemen"? I've never heard that, and found it jarring.)

Anyway, this book is about a scientist who is roped into a project to create a place where people can fish for salmon in the desert of Yemen, an idea which could bring peace to the Middle East or at least be politically influential in other ways. Apparently this is scientifically quite ill-advised and very expensive, but if you believe...blah blah blah. And the over-the-top wealthy sheik who's bankrolling the project believes, and manages to convince the scientist and others to work to make this happen. Field of Dreams, take two. In the meantime, the scientist's marriage is on the rocks, the sheikh's life is threatened, and a romance may be budding between the scientist and a woman working closely on the business end of the project.

It seems this was supposed to be a satire, but the satirizing went over my head. There was some chuckle-inducing humor but nothing hysterical. The plot didn't grab me and I found the characters very two-dimensional and uninteresting (the format may be partly to blame for that, but that was the author's choice).

It was a light enough read and not unpleasant, which is why I'm veering over to three stars rather than relegating it to a more disappointed two. I suppose if you're stuck somewhere and find this book in a pile of otherwise unpromising-looking reads, you're better off with this one. That's about the strongest recommendation I can give it.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
September 16, 2021
Really a lovely little story about what love, and loving, and being loved all mean. And how they are separate and distinct from each other. And why you should always remain aware of each of them in relation to yourself, your partner(s), and your wider world.

Spread the happiness. Share the contentment. Read this charming book for the health of your soul.

KINDLE EDITION $1.99 NOW! https://smile.amazon.com/Salmon-Fishi...

(There's also a Lasse Hallström film that I give an extra half-star to because Ewan McGregor's in it. Very faithful and effective adaptation, too, if that matters to you. Showtime streams it.)
Profile Image for Calzean.
2,591 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2020
The author had a good idea for a short story and then had to find a way to fill in 200 pages to make a book. A parody of politics and how the West thinks it is still the best. There some good bits and the shallow PR adviser to the PM was a fav but overall it has lost its edginess over time.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,396 followers
August 19, 2016
Where was I when this came out in 2007? When I discovered this title recently in someone else’s TBR list, I immediately added to my own. The novel is an absurdist romp with a heart of gold (and romance). I belly-laughed through the first bits, looked askance at the portion where the Prime Minister’s aide imagines a quiz show in Pakistan, and couldn’t wait to find out the result of the ridiculous, bound-to-fail salmon fishery in Yemen. I wanted to believe, as the sheik says.

This worthy novel has already been made into a Golden Globe-nominated film starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt which was released in 2011. I look forward to seeing what Director Lasse Hallström has done with the absurdist concepts, poking fun at government spending on dubious projects which serve only to keep current officials election-worthy. Torday captures the dueling-memo mentality of government bureaucracies competing for limited funds, and the stilted, unsexy email correspondences of working spouses.

And yet, there is more than mere farce in the developing faith our fisheries expert has in the doomed project, and in his blossoming love for his “estate agent” colleague. I listened to the 2007 Orion production of the audiobook supported by a full cast including Downton Abbey star Samantha Bond (you’ll recognize her voice immediately) along with John Sessions, Andrew Sachs, Andrew Marr and many more. The audiobook is a brilliant success as each character is enunciated by actors with great skills. This audiobook production ranks among the best I have heard in recent years and is well worth seeking out.

I look forward also to seeking out more of Torday’s titles. And I adore the covers for his books. I note the publisher remains an imprint of George Weidenfeld & Nicholson throughout his list. These exceptionally fine covers could be done in-house at the publishers, but more likely they are created by a friend. What a great gift to the author, and to us, to see two artistic talents melded. Kudos Torday, et al!
Profile Image for Rusalka.
374 reviews112 followers
March 10, 2018
My Dad read a lot. But he read things you could learn stuff from (gardening, wildlife, natural history, woodworking, diy, history, military, politics, etc books) or biographies/autobiographies of sportsmen or military persons. So much so that when he passed away and my Mum came with us to his flat, she remarked that copy of The Bourne Identity was the first novel she had ever seen in his possession. And she had been married to the man for 15 years at one time.

So that being said, the only novel my Dad ever recommended to me to read was this one. From what I can piece together, I think he had borrowed it from the library as he thought it actually was a book about fishing in the Yemen. It wasn't, and isn't, but Dad being Dad, seeing it was in his house for a month, he'd give it a go. And apparently he loved it.

I can honestly see why. It's the British kind of absurd he loved. It pays the crap out of those ridiculous people in London doing ridiculous things that his kind of Northerner doesn't get, and really, I only do as I live in the bureaucratic capital of another country. It's Yes Minister, but with fish and the Middle East. It is bloody funny.

It's a tongue in cheek look at the most boring man in British history who has been commissioned against his will through his civil service job to see if salmon fishing in the Yemen is possible. The book then follows him and his colleagues through the project and it's misadventures, and how it changes them.

It's also a rather insightful look into the political machine and British foreign policy regarding the Middle East in the 2000s. I'm glad Dad told me to read it actually. What I like about this book is very similar to what I loved about Dad honestly. Something so ridiculous and outrageous, in him the crazy Yorkshireman with the outrageous stories and the cheeky smile, but if you push further there was actually an incredibly nuanced understanding of foreign and military policy hiding within, both in the book and Dad. But Dad also had great information about growing tomatoes ;)

For more reviews visit http://rusalkii.blogspot.com.au/
Profile Image for Harsha Priolkar.
424 reviews10 followers
January 28, 2013
A fascinating tale of dreams and how they can sometimes consume us but most often will set us free, if only we let them!

So we meet Dr. Jones, a gentleman academic and scientist married to an obnoxious woman (I hate to say this about any woman, even a fictional one, but she is really just awful), who is thrust headfirst into a bizarre project at the whim of a wealthy sheikh. The sheikh who is a visionary, a wise man and a keen salmon fishing enthusiast (a potent combination), dreams of seeing salmon run the rivers of his native land - The Yemen. Bizarre? Duh! Crazy? Duh! Impossible? Hmmm...The story traces Dr. Jones's journey from an indifferent, ineffectual individual to a committed, passionate believer. Torday’s take on British politicians (indeed most politicians) & bureaucracy is spot on and hilarious. Peter Maxwell – the insufferable know-it-all PM’s aide, is instantly recognizable and utterly pitiable! Unsurprisingly perhaps, I kept thinking of the ‘Yes, Minister’ series all throughout this book! The book has a love story too, two in fact, but you’ll just have to read the book to know their outcomes! One part of the ending came as a shock but the other I must confess I thought I saw coming although it was kind of sad when it did. Enough said!

The narrative is in the form of diary entries and letters & emails between the principal characters, which keeps things interesting and offers different perspectives. I've found I enjoy this style, most recently encountered in Atwood's Alias Grace. In a nutshell, a well written, easy-to-read book with a great story & message. This one’s a keeper and made me think of what may happen if we ‘hitch our wagon to the stars’!
Profile Image for John.
61 reviews4 followers
June 29, 2012
So the author, Paul Torday, decided that he wanted to make a film starring Hugh Grant and a younger woman. Hmmm, what can the story be about? Must have a catchy title so that the plot can be developed from that. Something, unusual like those tractors in Ukraine perhaps, or the fridge in Ireland..... that's good, an odd object and an intriguing country. So Salmon Fishing and the Yemen ..... was this a bet? Good start. Now ... Hugh Grant .. how can we work him into this title?

Oh for goodness sake. I read about 20 pages and there were two quite funny bits and I thought I should continue. Wrong. I had read the inflight magazine and that thought I might as well finish the book.

The plot was contrived and the characters were obvious stereotypes:
Peter Maxwell - the greasy PM dogsbody,
Harriet Chetwode-Talbot - unreachable, clever, posh, lady 15 years younger (fantasy!)

Just dreadful.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tansy.
60 reviews
April 29, 2022
I didn’t think I’d enjoy a book about salmon fishing, but I love the way this was written.
Profile Image for Natalie Vellacott.
Author 9 books854 followers
October 26, 2020
Totally bonkers, loved it!

Dr Alfred Jones is a fisheries scientist who is seconded to the British government and loosely working under pompous civil servant Peter Maxwell. The novel begins with Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, working for a private financing company contacting Jones on behalf of Sheikh Muhammad of the Yemen. The Sheikh is keen on fishing, salmon fishing to be exact because he feels it causes people to live harmoniously with each other. With the help of Jones, he would like to use his great wealth to bring the sport to his beloved Yemen highlands. After initially dismissing the idea as completely ludicrous, Jones is forced into action when the idea catches the eye of senior politicians in the British government who see it as a perfect photo opportunity.

This unique novel which has apparently been made into a film is told through a series of diary entries, emails and excerpts from memoirs. Even the relationship between Jones and his wife Mary is hilarious as she, initially with good reason, belittles him and his work all via email as she has been seconded to work in abroad, possibly permanently.

There is a perfect segment in the middle of the novel where Peter Maxwell, apparently caught up with the idea of bringing peace to the Middle East, and not just through fishing, develops a game show called Prizes for the people. His first contestant is a desert dweller, who on eventually answering a question correctly is awarded a state of the art dishwasher. Perplexed he asks what to do with the machine. Maxwell has concluded that what these people really need is tech and the ability to shop for the items they lust after but cannot afford. He believes jealousy of their Western counterparts is the root cause of all of the tensions and it can all be solved by issuing credit cards and TV's to the masses. He somehow gets as far as explaining this preposterous idea to politicians including the Prime Minister. After a long silence, he is told that he needs to get out more.....

This is a gem and had me laughing out loud in places. There is a bit of bad language but not a lot. There is some sexual innuendo but not really graphic. There is some mild violence.
Profile Image for Hudson.
181 reviews46 followers
June 24, 2014
Actual rating 3.5*

I would have rated this book a four but I did not really care much for the ending. It seemed to leap out at me rather quickly and then conclude in an uneasy fashion. The writing was really good and I thought the idea was pretty original (salmon fishing in Yemen? Absurd!!) I also really liked some of the characters: the scientist’s ultra dull wife and the British politician were very well done. This book is told from a lot of different points of views, from diaries and journals, to minutes from Parliament meetings and also emails from terrorist organizations. There were also some funny moments. I hate to rate the book less than a four but the ending really left me high and dry (bad pun intended).
Profile Image for Nigel.
449 reviews2 followers
January 1, 2008
A light enjoyable read that is easily devoured in a few sittings. It's a quirkily impressive debut novel from a 60 year old engineer/fisherman! It is laced with humour and optimism as well as taking a satirical swipe at Yes Ministering and spin doctoring. The format of diary extracts, emails, interviews and articles is used throughout to good effect to flesh out the story and main characters who are largely sympathetically drawn, though the machinations of the the PM's Director of Communications is rather overstated. A book that doesn't make fishing seem boring that is also shot through with tenderness and political insight.
Profile Image for Girish.
832 reviews202 followers
July 3, 2022
“Faith is the cure that heals all troubles. Without faith there is no hope and no love. Faith comes before hope, and before love. (Sheikh Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama)”

Billionaire Sheiks who dream up impossible projects is not at all an account of fiction. You just have to visit Dubai once to know that much of what has been achieved has been because of visionaries.

And hence when Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Zaidi dreams up the project to introduce Salmon fishing in Yemen, it is dismissed as impossible by Dr. Alfred Jones in the British fisheries team. Since it is a question of funding and the PM's office is involved, he is pressurised to make an attempt. Along with consultant Ms.Harriet Chetwood, the doctor slowly starts to apply his heart and starts to believe.

Written as an epistolary novel, it starts off as an funny satire on politics and politicians. The PM's office represented by the Head of communications is one of the most irritating characters ever. The personal lives of Fred and Harriet have very different issues and you feel for them. Their subtle chemistry is refreshing and as the book grows more pensive the characters matured into people of faith.

I loved the enigmatic Sheik's presence who sells the impossible vision as something prophetic. The audiobook experience gives a very innovative twist to interviews and TV shows. The unexpected climax was something that I found tough to digest. But in a sense, it made the entire book told in accounts of the event.

A humorous satire that has a lot of heart.
Profile Image for S.Ach.
493 reviews159 followers
February 11, 2021
Sometimes, in the front shelf of your favourite book store, you catch a title that instantly prods you to put it in your basket. But, then you come back home, and see the not so encouraging ratings in goodreads community, and it finds itself first in the bottom of unread shelf, and then pushed to the back pile. After many months, you want to read something light, and decide to give it a go.
You have very low expectations. But, you are pleasantly surprised how the initial chapters are. You like the flow, the characters and narration. You are very interested now. You go on and then realize the book is better than your expectations. Even if not great, you enjoyed the time spent with it.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, was one such book for me.

I loved the way it was written - instead of straight narration - it takes the form of many email exchanges, telephonic conversations, mails, interviews and diary excerpts. I liked the main characters. The plot was funny. As a political satire, it managed to keep my interest piqued. All in all, I liked the book.

You might ask, does it deserve a four star rating? Probably not.
But, it definitely exceeded my expectations.
Profile Image for Shutterbug_iconium.
63 reviews19 followers
June 28, 2012
“Samon Fishing in the Yemen.” was a quick read. I sort of liked it but I just thought it could have been so much better. I have just ambivalent feelings about this book.
I will just number what I thought.
1. Some characters, specifically Mary, did not seem to be real people to me either. I can understand why a woman can be so single-mindedly career-driven but Mary was just a cardboard cutout that I think Paul Torday wanted us to hate her. The sheikh character sounds like an overdrawn picture of a modern day Sufi Muslim. I don’t know maybe it was just me but any reader could just see from the get-go that the sheikh did not exactly point to a religious faith but to believe in the belief itself. The fishery scientist did not really have to experience an epiphany to see that.
2. When I read the answers the characters gave to the interrogators in the book, I thought how stupid it sounded. No one would talk like that in interviews with investigators and no interrogator would allow getting sidetracked.
3. It was thought-provoking to read that an immature, self-absorbed and complacent men like Peter Maxwell have such great impact on the policy makers of a country like Britain but is there any country where politicians aren’t swayed by their advisors, top aides etc…
4. A writer who makes his characters give overdrawn answers in an investigation deems it necessary that an old, cold and cautious scientist should get divorced and he can’t have a relationship with someone who is 20 years younger than him. Torday may have thought that if the fishery scientist and Harriet were to have a relation, Harriet’s love for her soldier would lose its credibility but I still think he could have thought something richer in detail.
5. As a Muslim, I don’t think there is such a clear-cut difference between the West (consumerist) vs. East ( faith-based),at least not as clear as the writer seemed to reflect…This may sound harsh for you but let me ask a question; is there so much difference between living promiscuously until settling down and living in monastic frustration until you [can] marry more than one woman? For me, there isn’t much difference. Islam allows men to have more than one wife under exigent circumstances but many polygamous Muslim men do not really care about the exigent part.[ In secular Muslim countries like Turkey, polygamy is strictly verboten but it’s still practiced actually]
Torday’s characters believe it’s really biblical to offer water to strangers while you don’t have so much water yourself. Is this really true in a Western country like Britain? The writer must know something. He’s been to the Middle East many times. He can surely make comparisons but is that a fair comparison? Did humanity really die in the West? Is that so simple? Or is the writer being naïve and does he just glorify the East out of proportion?
Torday writes “Faith is absolute and universal. The choice, if there is a choice, is made at birth. Everyone believes. For these people, God is a near neighbor”
I know that not everybody who is defined as “Muslim” does actually believe. That they can’t openly deny the existence of God is because of the fact that in some Islamic countries, people face discrimination including lack of legal status or even a death sentence in the case of apostasy.
If you ask me some ultra-conservative branches of Islam are surely less peaceful than atheist Easterners. Take Wahhabists, for instance. It’s practically the regime of Saudi Arabia today. It was founded by a man named Wahhab who made the central point of his reform movement the principle that absolutely every idea added to Islam after the third century of the Muslim era (about 950 CE) was false and should be eliminated. Most of their so-called reforms are marked by unprovoked, gratuitous maliciousness; that these people destroyed many buildings associated with early Islam, in Saudi Arabia from early 19th century through the present day is wanton. Just because they disapprove of veneration of the historical sites associated with early Islam, doesn’t mean fellow Muslims actually worship these buildings!
Torday’s fishery scientist fails to observe how diverse and varied an Islamic country can be. While Torday satirizes a British communications director who naively believes he will change the region with TV, he lets the imagination of a strait-laced scientist go wild.
Profile Image for Marina.
497 reviews41 followers
March 31, 2017
I really liked that book, but (and maybe that's because I read it after watching the film) I have a (wee) problem with the ending. Being the rest of the novel so cynical, surely a spark of hope at the end wouldn't have been too much to ask?

The format of the novel is clever and entertaining (although I enjoyed some bits more than others, of course, my favourites being Fred's diary entries), and it makes the irony of it all even more obvious. Because what Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does is to point out all (ok, some) of the worst contradictions/problems/hypocrisies/faultines of Western thought in relation to culture, politics and society in general... And it's done sometimes unashamedly ( safafafwf) and sometimes not that bluntly ( = lack of TRANSPARENCY, lack of meaning in language etc.) but it is NEVER subtle.

And you enjoy it because, despite being so decadent it is also a bit surreal (salmon in the Yemen!), ironic in a funny haha way, and hopeful. I really can do with Fred and Harriet ending separate ways (I would have believed it even in the film, which has much more rom-com elements, but still), but it's all so tragic.

Wasn't the point of the book to shred some hope (faith or whatever) into the disgusting mess that our present day is? then why did you broke my heart? (maybe the fact that the project does work for a moment should do the trick? it didn't with me).

(I'm sorry if this review is too ungrammatical, I've got a headache and this computer doesn't have spell check in English. Also, I haven't read any other review of this novel, I may think I'm stupid if I do.)

(Also, the lack of women in the novel? I think it's on purpose. It is criticising Western world, and it's a men's world (and plus, it polarizes the Harriet/Mary). There may be a little bit of a problem here with the film, where Mr Maxwell becomes a Mrs. This character is the most problematic one, he represents everything that is wrong with our society... To make him a woman -even if it's a competent one- it's a bit hypocritical...)
10 reviews
November 30, 2010
There were parts of this novel I liked - I thought the satire of bureaucratic pseudo-politeness was pretty funny, and I found the discussion of faith a little underdeveloped, but still interesting.

The female characters kind of killed it for me, though. Alfred's wife just seemed like a lazy cliche - I couldn't find her believable in the least. It seemed like she was being used mainly so we felt less guilty about wanting Alfred to get together with Harriet, who in turn also seemed to be being set-up as some unobtainable hottie archetype rather than a real person. I get the one-dimensionality of the political characters used, but the dynamics between these three were supposed to be a huge part of the soul of the book, and they just felt like a really bad romance novel.
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