Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

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Many years ago, I came across a review of a book with an intriguing title – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The review itself roused my curiosity, so I went out and sought a copy immediately from my local library.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was the debut novel of Paul Torday, who was 59 when the book was published. The title alone is enough to trigger even a casual reader’s interest, and the book delivers solidly on the premise.

To begin with, the title is not a metaphor. It is quite literally about a project to introduce the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen, a feat that sounds almost Herculean given the warmth of the Middle Eastern climes.

Dr. Alfred Jones is a middle-aged fisheries scientist who rejects the project at first, but due to its positive political implications, he is dragged into it most unwillingly. He warms to the project when he meets Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a partner at the legal firm who represents the sponsor of the project – Yemeni sheikh Muhammad ibn Zaidi bani Tihama. The sheikh is a mystical character, and his smooth voice and hypnotic style of speaking induces Dr. Jones to shed his disbelief and have faith in the project. The book is written in an epistolary format, with diary entries, email correspondence, news items, etc.

I enjoyed reading the book so much, as any fan of PG Wodehouse would. It features the typical gentle British humour, and even won the 2007 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. I remember reading and re-reading it multiple times before finally returning it to the library.

Recently I came across the movie version of the book on Amazon Prime Video. I ordered a copy of the book, read it cover-to-cover and also watched the movie.

I loved the book, and everything I love about it came washing over me as I read it, but I didn’t enjoy the movie as much, though I understand it fared well at the box office. My main gripe is that they changed key plot elements from the book, and turned it into a romantic comedy. But the main characters were played quite well, and no doubt Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor were quite easy on the eyes, though I seriously doubt Ewan McGregor at any age could be made to resemble the character of Dr. Alfred Jones! If you want to know more about it, here’s Roger Eberts’ review of the movie.

I’ll happily pick up the book again as a night-time read, but I doubt I’ll be re-watching the movie any time soon.

Have you read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? Or seen the movie? What did you think about it? Do let me know in the comments below!

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