Monthly Archives: September 2012

‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ by Paul Torday

With a  fresh and unusual story line, this clever book drew me in immediately. A wealthy sheikh in the Yemen involves British politicians, a fisheries expert, and an estate agent into a project that seems very likely to fail. The Yemen is not suited nor sustainable in climate or environment to salmon, and yet the project to introduce them continues. But can improbability and impossibility stop a miracle from happening?

The story is about more than fish…there is hope, faith and love, and the characters are believable. Torday’s style of telling the story through written narratives was effective, entertaining, and allowed for various points of view. My favourite parts of the book were the wise and hopeful reflections of the sheikh, like those in this trailer.

But the book did not have the Hollywood ending I was expecting, and perhaps that fits and is more realistic. Does the movie have a Hollywood ending? Now I have read the book I can find out!

‘The Clothes on their Backs’ by Linda Grant

Grant has written an unusual immigrant story.  Vivien’s parents have never told her much about the time before they moved to a new land and took up residence in a small flat in London. Without much joy or activity beyond the regular routines of daily living, the only thing her father is passionate about is how much he hates his brother.

Unbeknownst to her father, Vivien meets with her uncle, a notorious and reviled slum landlord,  and helps him to write a memoir. In the telling he gives Vivien something she never got from her parents – the stories of the past –  and gives the reader some empathy for him. Is a monster excused because he has suffered?

Clothing plays an important role in this book. Grant skilfully captures the mysterious link between clothing and personality. The imagination in how we clothe ourselves or how we view how others are clothed, is something intriguing and intuitive to those who find that sort of thing interesting.

Though shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and though parts of this book were interesting and well written, I cannot say that I enjoyed it very much or found it very compelling. Although I liked what the author did with her descriptions of the clothing and the unfolding of the immigrant story, I also found it in many ways awkward and unfocused.

This was a book club assignment and I am anxious to discover what the others thought of it. Sometimes my opinion of a book increases when I hear what others appreciated about it. Will we all be thinking extra hard about what we wear to the meeting? 🙂

‘Notes from an Exhibition’ by Patrick Gale

Even though it seems a stereotype, it is often true that gifted artists blessed with exceptional talent suffer from mental illness like depression, bipolar or manic disorders.

This is the kind of book where the main event happens at the beginning when little or nothing is yet known of the circumstances. The story unfolds backwards as the author provides the missing pieces and connects the dots about the past. At the same time the story moves forward with the present day concerns of the family. For those who love plot and adventure, this is not your book, although there are intriguing secrets and events revealed along the way. It is beautifully written and portrays a family in a poignant light as they struggle with the kinds of things many families struggle with – imperfect and difficult circumstances, in this case a mother with an unknown past and a mental illness. Children tend to blame themselves for things, and growing up with a volatile yet brilliant mother does take its toll.  The husband and father is a Quaker and he brings a soothing and solid presence to the family – a lovely contrast to the chaos.

From the flyleaf: “When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work  – but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage that will take months to unravel.” Each chapter is prefaced with an art exhibition note which I found a very interesting and effective technique.

Patrick Gale is a thoughtful and sensitive author. He made me care about his characters and their family relationships.  I will look forward to reading his more recent novels in particular ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ which is not a sequel but does bring back one of the characters from this book. His books are mostly set in beautiful Cornwall which is one of my favourite places to visit, whether in person or vicariously through the pages of a novel. Here is a trailer for ‘A Perfectly Good Man’.