Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Paul Torday Weidenfeld & Nicolson

I reviewed this book on Radio New Zealand National today. Here are my notes on it.

I have to say I was somewhat surprised with the title of this book when it turned up but it proved to be an hilarious and most entertaining read and I reckon my reaction will be shared by most readers and word of mouth will ensure it goes on to become a really big best-seller.
I read it in one long happy sitting and laughed out loud on several occasions. It is a real page turner. An unexpected gem.

It’s a satire really, but a gentle satire in which first-time author Paul Torday sends up modern marriage, the Western view of Islam, political shennanigans, international relations, the media, the academic world, and the world of the bureaucrat.

And all done in a gentle and kind sort of way - what a stunning achievement.

The story is told by way of diary extracts, memos between government agencies, letters and e-mails between various individuals, tv & radio interview transcripts, extracts from Hansard, select committee conclusions and even a termination of employment contract.

And it is the story of Dr.Alfred Jones described by himself as “an old, cold, cautious scientist”, but in fact he proves to be a most likeable protagonist. He is in fact
a middle-aged fisheries scientist working in the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence where he is an authority on caddis fly larva, he is also a somewhat henpecked spouse in a loveless marriage and a man ready to love again.

One day he is approached by a wealthy Yemeni Sheik to develop a ridiculous plan to introduce the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen. He, of course refuses, and gives all the scientific reasons why such a scheme would not work.
However British politicians get wind of it, see it as a great opportunity to improve British/Yemeni relations and pressure him to do it. So he unwittingly becomes first a pawn and then a victim of bureaucratic juggling and political spin.
Eventually though he becomes seduced by the Sheik’s vision and his passion for salmon fishing and as a result he goes on an amazing journey that proves to be both geographical and spiritual.

It is a great piece of imaginative writing. It is a book about love, about human existence, about ambition and greed, about intercultural differences and about salmon fishing.

I was bowled over by it and I’m not surprised to learn that translation rights have already been sold to publishers around the world.

Paul Torday worked for 30 years as an engineer before taking up writing and not surprisingly one of his great loves is salmon fishing. I read somewhere that he sees his book as “something of a metaphor for the tension between secular Western values and the values of religious societies still outside the mainstream Western traditions.”

I guess you could interpret it that way but for me it was a just a great, entertaining read and I was sorry when I finished it. A sequel please Mr.Torday, I need to know what Dr.Alfred Jones does with the rest of his life and whether his unrequited love is finally returned.

Author Paul Torday.

Impressively the novel has its own website – although it is of course a publicity tool for the book it is sophisticated and effective and well worth a look..

A PS for NZ readers – At one stage in the story the British PM asks his assistant to get him a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc! Nice little plug for an iconic NZ wine.


Anonymous said...

a cleverly understated piece of writing, to be recommended

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, I bought it yesterday after hearing your radio review and got about half way through it last night. I'm loving it.

Anonymous said...

Bloody brilliant, thanks for bringing it to my attention.