Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Stocked Salmon Smackdown

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2007)

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “that’s one of the problems you would have to solve, of course. But if it was me, and of course I’m a completely non-technical person, I’d think along the lines of constructing holding ponds at the bottom of the wadis seeded with salmon, keeping the water cool, injecting it with oxygen if necessary, and confining the salmon there for three or four years. I read somewhere that in Canada salmon stay in the lake systems for that amount of time.”   (p. 27)

Just to provide a little context, Harriet, an estate manager, is talking to Alfred, a fisheries scientist. She represents a fabulously wealthy sheikh who wants to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen, and Harriet is trying to convince Alfred to take the idea seriously.

The reference to “lakes” makes it clear that she is not referring to Atlantic salmon on the east coast or Pacific salmon in British Columbia, which are natural populations of fish that have been running to the ocean and back upriver to spawn since time immemorial. Rather, she is talking about fish that were introduced, most likely into the Great Lakes.

I was, in my (largely misspent) youth, a keen fly fisherman and, even more so, a keen reader of fishing magazines, and I seem to recall there being a general prejudice in the fly-fishing community against fishing for introduced fish stocks. So going after Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland would be a fisherman’s dream, whereas catching a Chinook in Lake Ontario would be only a small step up from hauling them out of a pond at a fish farm.

By mentioning Canadian salmon in lakes, then, Harriet is showing that she doesn’t understand a distinction that is fundamental to any true fisherman. Indeed, one of the turning points in the novel comes when the sheikh learns he won’t be able to take wild salmon from the rivers of Scotland, and instead will have to stock his Yemeni river with farmed salmon. Both he and Alfred are crushed by the thought of having to use these inferior animals.

If we were inclined to overinterpret a bit (and, as should be evident by now, we are), we could argue that the passage reflects an unfairly negative view of salmon fishing in Canada. In fact our coastal fisheries are every bit as “wild” as the salmon fishery in Scotland; it’s only the salmon that were introduced to the Great Lakes that are in some sense “inferior,” but that is all that is mentioned here.

I’ll avenge the affront to my country by noting that I didn’t think much of this book; in fact, I’ll pay it the ultimate insult and say the movie, though cheesy, was better. It stars Ewan McGregor and the (currently ubiquitous) Emily Blunt, has a great small role by Kristen Scott-Thomas, and though it turns the book into a typical “opposites loathing and then attracting” romantic comedy (which the book really isn’t), it at least succeeds in being well-constructed and moderately enjoyable.

A Canadian Footnote

Since I’m on the subject of this novel, I can’t resist mentioning one other reference, which is not directly to Canada but implies Canada:

Eventually Peter took himself off – to go and play with his Blackberry, I expect.   (p. 154)

Peter is the Prime Minister’s press secretary – it’s not worth the effort of explaining how he fits into the plot, but what’s interesting here is that Blackberrys, manufactured by the Canadian company RIM, were so prevalent in 2007 that the British Prime Minister’s press secretary would have one, and that a British author would take the trouble to refer to it by name. This indicates how far Blackberrys had penetrated the public consciousness in the pre-iPhone years.

Since Harriet (who narrates the quoted line) despises Peter, it seems likely that the sentence purposely alludes to two common expressions for masturbation: “get himself off” and “play with himself”. But the Blackberry is such a bewitching piece of technology (or he is such a loser) that Peter would rather play with it than with himself. Whether RIM should be honoured by the reference I will leave to more seroious heads to decide.


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  1. Pingback: Salmon Fishing in Canada | Wow - Canada!

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