Saturday, March 22, 2008


Today I'll be reviewing Fish On Friday by Brian Fagan, Basic Books,
a member of the Perseus Books Group, New York, 2006.
The image above is NOT the cover of the book.

OK, what do I say about this one? I can compare it to one of those movies that knows so little what it wants to be that it does a radical tonal shift at some point, or at several points, so that a slapstick comedy suddenly goes grim and bleak, or a horror movie is going along all bloody and dire and suddenly they throw a musical number in there.
This is one of those.

Overall the course of the book might actually make sense to a landscum reader, but to me, a Catfish, not so much. It starts out as virtual fish porn, luxuriating in the fish symbolism and PISCATORIAL LOVE threaded through ancient religions, not the least of which was first-generation Christianity.

We're going along just fine in this vein, but the book detours bizarrely into the construction of fishing boats through the ages. This part just goes ON and ON and ON. The author never tells you why he feels you need to know so much about this subject. The placement of this information does not make ANY sense. Why he starts writing about it when he does, and why he stops when he does, makes NO sense. What all this boatbuilding stuff has to do with the discovery of America as it pertains to fish, HE NEVER TELLS YOU.

At one point the author leaps gloriously into a discussion of Carp infiltration. He admits frankly on page 135 that "no one knows why Carp suddenly appeared outside their natural habitat." I could tell you that answer myself, but of course it's CLASSIFIED so no human can learn it. If you think I'm posting that on the Internet, you're being ridiculous.

On the other hand, Fagan reveals on page 145 that the storied Scarborough Fair, immortalized for the younger generation by Simon & Garfunkel,
was actually an important fish festival during medieval times.
There's nothing not to like about THAT news.

This is a book with fish recipes of all kinds salted into the text, but in a lengthy and loving chapter on the Carp the author utterly fails to explain the importance of removing the "mud vein" from an operative of this species before preparing her for a dining-table recruiting session. All he does is say that unfortunately,
sometimes a Carp tastes muddy.

He does due homage to the importance of the Herring in English life, but he can't seem to decide whether the medieval fish fasters loved Herring or hated it.

The man also goes on and on about the glories of Eel pie -- and a glorious dish it is -- but doesn't include a recipe to make one. Or jellied Eels, easy to make and beloved of the Cockneys. If it's good enough for the neighborhood where Johnny Rotten grew up, it's good enough for ME. Tell us how to fix it, you big dope! He does tell you how to fix a Jamaican fish dinner, using ingredients only available in Jamaica. Are you starting to see my problem here?
At this point, the story trails off limply, not coming to any sort of useful conclusions or, indeed, explaining what all these jangling and disjointed facts have to do with, well, anything.

He also barely mentions how the modern advances in trawling, longlining and refrigerated ships have made it easier for the landscum to clear the oceans of all life, forcing us to take matters into our own jaws and clear out the humans, instead.
I cannot argue with the fine recipes and other information on recruitment he does include. The "smoked Eel, bacon and mash" recipe is mouthwatering as well as educational on the subject of British cooking. (Where else on earth but in Britain would you fry bacon in butter, reserve the resulting fat and pour it over Eel, which is already 60% fat?) He was SMART to avoid the mistake others have made, getting snide about garum (a ubiquitous condiment of the Roman Empire made of fermented fish guts) and saying it was the real cause of the decline and fall. Get real; garum is the reason the Roman Empire lasted AS LONG AS IT DID.

I say, by all means read it, but be prepared to skip over a bunch of
stuff that does NOT relate to our glorious Cause.

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Blogger Ur-spo said...

that was informative; thank you

8:33 PM  

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