One day I may read a bad review of a fishing book but it could be a long time away. Nearly all reviews are favourable, not to say gushing. Many new publications are hailed as future classics, a bit like how some unimpressive pop stars are labelled geniuses. In this year’s issue of Salmo Trutta, the Wild Trout Trust’s annual, Neil Patterson goes wild in a review of David Profumo’s book on his fishing life, The Lightening Thread.
Now Profumo has never been a writer I’ve cared for, what with a tendency to overwrite and clutter his sentences with verbosity and archaisms. Patterson it seems has been infected with the same problem. He pours on the praise in a display of wordiness that matches Profumo’s. The book is a ‘collection of crafted essays’, ‘a deeply intelligent, virtuosically exuberant exploration’ of his extensive travels. Apart from wondering whether there is such a thing as an uncrafted essay, the rest of the hyperbole suggests to me that Profumo must be half great thinker, half great artist. And when the review suggests he is smarter than Chomsky, famed linguist and philosopher amongst other things, one feels that Patterson has gone so far overboard he is drowning in his own enthusiasms.
So can Lightening Thread live up to its billing? Unfortunately not. A fair chunk of the book’s opening can be read online. It begins in typical Profumo style with plenty of long winded erudition on the history of fishing, showy writing with Latin phrases and uncommon or even archaic words. His descriptions that are meant to show his love of angling become so cloying that his love for Roget’s Thesaurus is more obvious. In fairness there are some interesting historical points new to me, but to get to them there is a lot of stodge to push through first. In the second chapter the author calms down a little and writes about his early fishing experiences which coincide with the period of the Profumo Affair, the great Sixties scandal which forced his father to resign his ministerial post. Potentially of some interest, Profumo’s perceptions of his father’s problems are only briefly referred to; but then he was young at the time and has written about his family elsewhere.
Patterson enlists the support of ‘literary giants’ who apparently endorse Profumo’s book. Stoppard is a significant playwright, and McGuane has written probably the best fishing book in recent times, but Prue Leith and Loyd Grossman? It makes it impossible to take this overblown review seriously. I’m certainly not persuaded that this is a good book, let alone a classic. There are no doubt points of interest in Profumo’s global wanderings with a fishing rod. Like his father, who was able to live off his inherited wealth post-scandal, David Profumo presumably has never needed to earn a living. All that time to go fishing and write books is a privilege. Whether it is worth wading through the treacly prose to follow his adventures is a matter of personal taste.