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Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times Again

And so, back to the beginning of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, which started with Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

These books sit on the very top of that bookcase I featured in the first of these posts, above the shelves that contain all my (read) Scottish books.

Books Once More

They’re here because they fit into the space – at least in the case of the three “What If…” books, What If?, More What If? and What If America? – anthologies of Altered History stories – and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Then there is Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, Colin Greenland’s excellent Finding Helen, a Paul Torday, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Marina Lewycka’s A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian, non-SF works by SF writers Brian Aldiss and Norman Spinrad, Robert Standish’s Elephant Walk and three books by Erich Maria Remarque including the incomparable All Quiet on the Western Front.

If I were filing my books thoroughly systematically these would all have to be moved.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen by Paul Torday

8/7/10-11/7/10
Phoenix, 2007, 329p.

This is an odd artefact. It depicts an attempt to introduce salmon to rivers in the Yemeni Highlands via the largesse of a local sheikh and the expertise of a UK government agency.

The book – it can scarcely be described as a novel – is constructed from supposed diary entries, letters, emails, extracts from Hansard, fragments of autobiography, a TV game show script, transcripts of television and press interviews, Select Committee Report conclusions and interrogations of the various participants in this madcap scheme. All have differing viewpoints and narrators. As such the whole becomes diffuse and bitty.

While there is an overall narrative thread the disparate voices too often fail to suspend disbelief. Instead of being presented with a convincing rendering of a diary extract or interview transcript we are given novelistic embellishments. The diary extracts contain information that we as readers ought to have but a diarist would not find it necessary to include. In one of the interviews a respondent states a person spoke mildly when surely they would report only the relevant conversation’s content, in another there is an (uncredited) interruption which reads, “The witness became emotional after the consumption of custard creams and was incoherent. The interview was resumed after a break of four hours.” This authorial interpolation is, I suppose, intended humorously but is, instead, bathetic, if not pathetic. The Hansard extracts do not quite reflect accurately the format of Prime Minister’s Questions. While it might be said that this is a comic novel and some licence is allowable, to get details such as this last example wrong detracts from the intended effect. Infelicities such as those above totally fail to create the necessary degree of verisimilitude. The name dropping of real people as interviewers – Andrew Marr, Boris Johnson – while the politicians and aides are fictional (yet recognisable) is also a mistake.

The book is obviously meant to be a satire but its approach is so scattershot that it is difficult to tell exactly what or whom is the intended target. Is it the workings of bureaucracies, office politics, communications directors/spin doctors, career women, politicians, even Islamic terrorists? All are featured, but the focus never stays in one place for long. The only character who has any semblance of solidity is the supposedly mad sheikh; and he has no viewpoint narrative.

After the novel’s end we also have “Reading Group Notes” containing items “for discussion.” Some may find this condescending.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen has its moments; but they are few.

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