Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Torday, Paul. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. New York: Harvest, 2007.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Finding good 21st-century farce is not an easy task. 21st-century writers and publishers seem determined to be harrowing, or heartwarming, or earnest, or magical. They’re under the impression that we readers don’t want to laugh at ourselves. Of course, the British have always been terribly good at laughing at themselves, so it makes sense that if a reader is desperately seeking farce, hoping to find something that will make her laugh out loud at one absurd-if-only-it-weren’t-so-recognizable episode after another, she ought to seek out a British writer.

I’m here to tell you, dear readers, that I’ve found one. His name is Paul Torday, and, no, the title of his book, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is not a metaphor for some impossible love affair or something (although there is — sort of — one of those). He really does mean salmon fishing in the Yemen. A sheik from Yemen, who happens to be loaded with money, has become besotted with salmon fishing on his Scottish estate, and he has decided he wants to bring the sport to Yemen, a country completely unsuitable for cold-water fish. Enter Dr. Alfred Jones, a scientist from the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence who gets dragged into this project against his will. Whether you know or care anything at all about salmon fishing, you, too, will be dragged against your will into this hilarious tale that manages also to drag everyone from the British prime minister to Al Quaeda terrorists into its midst.

Torday pulls all of this off using a technique that might have seemed too contrived or precious but which isn’t at all. The entire novel is told through fictitious emails, letters, news reports, and interviews. The book is so seamless that I didn’t realize until I’d reached the end how difficult it must have been for him to write it. I got all the details — or, at least, was able to imagine what they were — without the help of any sort of narrator giving them to me.

The book has been made into a movie, and I’m afraid to watch it, because I’m sure the scriptwriters have seen fit to give it the sort of happy ending a “light comedy” ought to have. That would ruin it. The book could have ended “happily ever after,” but, instead, Torday chose a more difficult path. He turned what could have been a maudlin story into one that had its hilarious moments (think The Gods Must Be Crazy, if you’re into that sort of movie), so that the reader finds herself laughing instead of crying, while still thinking, “Aww, but wait a minute…”

But I won’t give anymore away. I’ve said too much already. You’ll just have to read it yourself.