19 May 2009

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Paul Torday)

What better way to celebrate the corruption of the MPs in my adopted country than with a review of a book about a corrupt, delusional government wheeling and dealing? If you've been living under a rock (or in Yorkshire) you might not have heard about the corrupt expenses system many of the English public servants have been taking full advantage of. And when I say full advantage, I mean FULL ADVANTAGE. Details of the mangled expenses system were leaked by The Daily Telegraph, including bills for moat cleaning and porno films.

I was highly amused, although if I paid taxes I probably would have been outraged.

Torday's first novel describes a government gone slightly mad when the powers that be at 10 Downing Street command a scientist to work with a very powerful sheikh. His task is to help the sheikh develop salmon fishing in Yemen. The only problem is... Yemen is completely the wrong climate for salmon, hence why there are none there. Undaunted, 10 Downing Street ignore the scientific reasons as to why the industry cannot be developed, their eyes focused on the possibility of a positive story out of the Middle East.

What ensues is a marginally ridiculous solution masterminded by this poor, long-suffering scientist whose wife keeps threatening to leave him throughout the process. The story is told in a series of interview transcripts, letters, emails and diary entries. Whilst I would often use this as a selling tool ("It's so interesting! All those different formats!") I am actually not a fan of constructing a story this way. I feel it's catering to the lowest common denominator and, if you get down to the bare bones of it all, this multi-formatted style is normally executed much more fluidly by Marian Keyes. If Marian Keyes can do something better than you, DO SOMETHING ELSE.

I read this and wasn't overly impressed, despite all the hype. I found Fred (the scientist) to be uber-depressing in his downtrodden existence; and the disintegration of his marriage and budding relationship with another woman are PAINFULLY written. I'm cringing now, just thinking about those moments. The diary entries and emails all seem somewhat forced, as though real people aren't actually writing them.

However the book has several redeeming features. One, the title is superb. You may not think this matters that much, but it does. Two, SO many people come into the bookshop after a book for a non-reader. ARGH. You have come to the WRONG SHOP. However, this is one of the easiest books to sell to those desperate customers. "Government gone mad! Think Yes Minister! Fishing! Funny! Different formats! SO MANY different formats! Not really a book at all when you get down to it!"

Three, the satire that Torday uses in his depiction of Jay Vent (the British PM) and his cabinet is very, very funny. My favourite quote from the PM is here: "We're pretty much committed to going down a particular road in the Middle East... and it would be difficult to change that very much without people beginning to ask why we'd started down it in the first place."

And now I've just read the Speaker for the House of Commons has resigned, the first speaker in 300 years to do so. I feel it's only a matter of time until more than just the highly ridiculous is uncovered. Black glitter toilet seat and chocolate Santa aside, I reckon there are some ludicrous salmon fishing-esque skeletons in the British parliamentary closet rattling to come out.

Rating: 6/10.
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