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Deliciously light fare from a first-time novelist in his sixties. I picked this up cheap from bookgiant.co.uk because I needed another purchase to take advantage of the postage discount. I managed to zip through it in a day and a half as it was surprisingly airy.
Alfred Jones is a salmon expert for a small government agency. When the PM's office senses an opportunity for some good publicity, he is pressured into a consulting role for an impossible task - bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen.
On the way he is inspired by the visionary sheikh who originated the idea and impressed by the elegant project manager Harriet Chetwode-Talbot. As you can imagine this difficult project has many obstacles, not the least of which is the PM's Communications officer, Peter Maxwell - a dreadful composite of Alastair Campbell and that other PM, Peter Mandelson. There is also some opposition from an online Al Qaeda cadre who find the sheikh's plans thoroughly un-Islamic.
The story is told through a series of diary extracts, emails and interview transcripts. There are even some mocked-up extracts from Hansard. It's not an entirely successful conceit as the authors of the various documents are forced to recite entire conversations and recall the precise feeling they had when they had them. It's the least convincing aspect of this otherwise fun novel.
I know next to nothing about angling and even less about the migratory patterns of wild salmon and yet I was enthralled by these elements of the plot as they were presented and dealt with. The book sharply parodies the political culture of spin as Number 10's spokesperson proves himself to be continually out of step with all reality except the one he creates and perpetuates.
By the end of the book all plot lines have been resolved, although not as neatly as one might have earlier imagined. This is not a novel that will stay long in my mind although the title alone caused several remarks from people who caught site of the cover while I was reading.
I understand the book has already been read by Michael Sheen as part of Radio 4's Book at Bedtime. This sounds like a great choice given the nuanced ambiguity of Sheen's performance as Tony Blair in The Queen.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a simple story, nicely told and is recommended for anyone who struggles with more literary works of modern fiction. It is very accessible and occasionally insightful and philosophically challenging. A satisfying read.
The book is available in hardback at amazon.co.uk for £7.69. I bought mine at bookgiant.co.uk for £3.99, but they are now selling it there as a large-size paperback for £7.99.