Dr Alfred Jones is an unlikely hero: a shy civil servant beavering away at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence. He leads a plodding life, in a passionless marriage. When he is required to work on a project to establish salmon fishing in the Yemen, Alfred’s initial reaction is to be dismissive about the feasibility of his task.

Al Hajjara, Yemen Creative commons image Credit: ai@ace under CC-BY licence
Al Hajjara, Yemen

He is gradually won over by the idealistic Sheikh Muhammad, who is convinced that the miracle can happen and that salmon fishing will be a blessing for his country. Alfred joins forces with Harriet Chetwode-Talbot to help the Sheikh achieve his dream.

The vision is inspiring, because fishing might act as a bridge between cultures. Unfortunately many of the people involved have ulterior motives.

The Prime Minister, Jay Vent, and his spin doctor, Peter Maxwell, do hope to alleviate tensions between the West and the Middle East, but to their own ends. They aim to deflect criticism for the Iraq war and attract voters.

The story is told through letters, emails, diary entries, memoranda, proposal documents, reports, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, extracts from Hansard, a television interview with Andrew Marr, and a script for a TV pilot. At one point Alfred laments that he actually feels like a blank sodden page in a diary which has been left in the rain.

This is a satirical tale; however, the humour is not unbearably black. The book is whimsical, quaint, charming and, ultimately, touching. At its heart there is a meaningful debate about faith and reason.

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