An innovative format of journal entries, interview records and newspaper articles, lends a freshness that maintains the momentum of the work, through a story line that might otherwise be as dry as a Yemeni summer. That the book kept my attention from start to finish is a testament to Paul Torday’s expertise in fisheries science and capability in story telling – an unusual combination and actually a rather more enticing one than would first be expected.
However, what the book gains in format, it risks losing in narrative drive. At numerous points in the story, the author slips into a more traditional mode of story telling, thus shaking the credibility of the unusual vehicles (interview records, diary entries etc.) employed. Through strength in form more than in characterisation, I did find the two or three central characters of the story credible, even though I could not say I grew to love any enough to care about what happens to them.
In my opinion, a single major structural fault drags the book down, in that the denouement focusses on a minor character, raised above his importance to the story by virtue of his political status. Perhaps this works better in the movie, which I have not seen. In the book it is not successfully carried off.
What leads me to rate this as 4 stars and not 3, is the later significant context of the Yemeni war, which could not have been foreseen when Mr Torday wrote the book. Because of it, ‘Salmon Fishing In the Yemen’ takes on a poignancy that I am more familiar with seeing in stories set just before one of the two world wars, where the characters do not know of the momentous events about to occur, whereas the reader does. In this book, the author is as ignorant of the destruction of the world he describes as are his characters. It therefore gives rise to much thought on the reader’s part as to the presumptions we make about how our personal worlds will develop, and about how wrong we can be.
Nevertheless, despite its weaknesses it’s a lightweight, enjoyable read – one for the bedside or air travel.