Sunday, May 2, 2010

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

Paul Torday's Salmon Fishing In The Yemen came highly recommended as a funny novel and I wasn't disappointed. Picking it up, I came to expect the same comic madness as I ascribe to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 but found none such. What I found however was a funny novel of a different sort; the kind you expect from British comedies, deadpan-face, seriously-we-are-serious kind of funny and it was just as effective. Torday's portrayal of a fishery scientist's reaction to the idea of salmon fishing in the desert and his subsequent acceptance and love for the project despite initial reservations is a thoroughly believable narration.

Even as I went along with the absurd idea of fishing in the desert, even I began to think it less and less ridiculous and was just as moved in the end by the transforming power of this impossible dream.

Torday's triumph however is in doing all this with a straight face even while you are sure he has a smile tucked away. If you ever doubt he was writing a hilarious work, then you have to read the emails of the Al-Qaeda terrorists and the assassin they sent after the truly magnificent, truly cosmopolitan, maybe holy Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama whose money and will funded the audacious project. Even more than extracts from the Hansard and Peter Maxwell's (the PM's right hand man) junk autobiography, the terrorists who are distant except for a few pages gave me the maddest laugh of all.

A good work. I definitely will read Paul Torday again. On the strength of Salmon Fishing, he has earned two further readings of his works by me even if they fail to live up to this.