Salmon Fishing in the Jemen
As this novel is Torday´s debut and he was born in 1946, he obviously took his time to become a novelist. And he can make ample use of his vast experience in literature, international business affairs, the Arabic world and, last but certainly not least, salmon fishing.
And all that he puts into a marvellous, moving story about Dr Alfred Jones, a middle-aged British fisheries scientist. This Alfred is married to an egocentric caricature of a wife, his main scientific achievement is a paper about some larvae, and in a Forrest-Gump-like way he tries to see the best in everything.
Then a very rich Sheik with a Scottish estate, where he has discovered his love for salmon fishing, wants to introduce exactly that in the Highlands of the Yemen. The British government sees a unique chance to improve British- Arabic relations and offers their fisheries expert, Dr Jones, who first refuses to even think about this absurd idea. But his superiors threaten him into accepting to write a feasibility study. He meets with Harriet, the Sheik´s representative in Britain, a very attracive young lady. His wife has gone off to a career in banking in Switzerland for a year, anyway. As the novel is a mix of Jones´diary, Government documents, emails and interviews, we meet all kind of weird, cabaret-like characters.
The plot reminds me of “Florence of Arabia” by Christopher Buckley, where a similarly crazy idea for the Arabic world is described. But in contrast to Buckley´s bitter satire about Islam, Torday ridicules Tony Blair and his lot, whereas the Sheik is about the only sincere character in the book. And it makes wonderful reading.