Salmon fishing in the Yemen sounds a ridiculous concept! How could you have Salmon in Yemen? Well you could if you imported from Scotland! The book tells the story of a fictional attempt.
The project to introduce salmon fishing to Yemen was sparked by a Sheiki from Yemen. The government becomes involved. Therefore the book includes characters of fictional Prime Minister of England and his communication chief Peter Maxwell. Through the chain of command between government and civil service a Fish Scientist Alfred Jones is persuaded / forced to become involved in the project.
The book is told from the perspective of retrospectively reviewing the project through review of documents including emails, Alfred Jone’s diaries, transcripts of interviews and draft of Peter Maxwell’s autobiography. However, the construct of the book keeps the result of the project hidden from the reader until near the end.
The epistolic style of telling the story through letters (emails) and other documents initially seems dull. As the initial emails are authentically corporate emails. As the book continues they are so authentic or believable parody of political world; that like political satires like the Thick of it and Yes Prime Minister the book was amusing! The Prime Minister and Peter Maxwell talked and acted in a way that in my imagination were in the current manner of Boris Johnson in the real world. As this book was written pre 2007, it featured Boris Johnson as a journalist. It was confusing when I had imagined Peter to be like Boris that Boris was then interviewing Peter!
Peter and the Prime Minister are desperate to get a photo of the prime minister catching a salmon in Yemen in a cynical attempt to gain votes from anglers! Reminiscent of Boris as Mayor dangling over the Thames on a zip wire! It also rang bells in terms of how Peter, the Prime Minister and the various managers in the story at times were positive of the project, wanting credit for it and if it was not going well wanted to distance themselves from it and pretend had no knowledge! Heard such excuses from politicians a lot during pandemic … it was not a party, I don’t know about a party, I don’t know who paid for my flat decoration…etc
Alfred Jones seemed a dull character obsessed with minute detail of fish such as writing papers such as ‘Effects of increased water acidity on the caddis fly larva’. He was reminiscent of men I have encountered in real life. Although obsessed with fish which has become his career, he is married. Although his marriage seems to be a marriage of conscience. In the book he is mainly apart from his wife; corresponding by emails. Their emails by in large, seem cold and business like rather than affectionate. It annoyed me that underneath text of their emails in the books there were occasionally post scripts! This is not realistic of emails – you either realised forgot something before send email so add it in before sending or gave to send a second email! An undercurrent develops in the emails and his wife is patronising to Alfred, and you begin to feel sorry for him! The emails become subtly bitchy and if you can bring the situation to mind in your head then they are amusing.
This book set out as documents initially seems dull. But as described it builds momentum and it is a good ending. The characters are realistic characters and easy to imagine, you can imagine it as a film. Of course in a film you would lose the subtly of characters saying one thing but thinking another like being falsely positive about the project. I have just looked up and it was made into a film in 2011, starring Euan McGregor as Alfred – Wrong!!!! Too glamorous!!!!
Although not always fully respecting how book was written as a whole it has been thought provoking!