“I believe in it, because it is impossible.”
Fisheries scientist Alfred Jones leads a sedate life married to career-obsessed banker Mary. His job with the British government’s fisheries agency is not very taxing and not terribly well-paid. When he is first contacted about helping with a scheme to release salmon in a stream in the Middle Eastern, mostly desert, nation of The Yemen he is skeptical. But then 10 Downing gets involved and it all gets surreal.
What I Loved
The whole way the projected is schemed and “sexed up” by the Prime Minister’s media guru/ communications director, Peter Maxwell was spot on and too funny for words. “Prizes for the People” was genius! In my mind every time the P.M. appeared in the story I immediately saw chubby, pink aristocratic David Cameron. Naturally, a feel-good project was needed to offset the bad press of the war in Iraq! I loved the whole epistolary set-up of the novel with e-mails, deposition-type interviews, newspaper and other reporting. Such fun. The author really knew the government. His portrayal of smarmy, suck-up politicos is unsurpassed.
What I Didn’t Like
Really, it would only be what I liked less. Mary got tedious and then suddenly Harriet…. [well, that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it?]. One big farcical element took it down a small notch in my rating [again to say what it was would be a spoiler].
I am in another world, a world where faith and prayer are instinctive and universal, where not to pray, not to be able to pray, is an affliction worse than blindness, where disconnection from God is worse than losing a limb…. (p.214)
It saddened me that he expressed the common theme of knowing no one (in the UK) who actually goes to church or even believes. Yet he expresses the idea that in the [fictional] Yemen everyone believes and prays all day without mentioning that the laws in such real countries as the Yemen represents REQUIRE all outward signs of belief and that to fail to turn up for prayer or to close your business at prayer times or to ignore hundreds of other faith-related obligations but a person’s life at risk. His “awe” at their faith was a bit annoying due to this omission.
Sadly, the author of this fun send-up of the British government died a few years ago, but did live to see his book become a well-received movie. You can read his obituary here.
The movie version, staring Kristin Scott Thomas Thomas, Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor can be watched on Amazon here.