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Something to Answer for Paperback – 18 Sep 2008

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Paperback, 18 Sep 2008
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (18 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057124422X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571244225
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,802,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


P. H. Newby, who has always been one of the more distinctive British writers, has so many resources at his command-wit, quizzical satire, immense narrative versatility- that often his more serious intentions have been obscured. Here he returns to the venue of his Anglo-Egyptian trilogy where superficial events are even more parlous and unpredictable: Nasser has just nationalized the Suez Canal and people of all kinds are in a state of uncertainty and disruption. All of this is reflected and magnified through the mind of one Townrow, as slippery as a newt to begin with-a man of no particular scruples or convictions who becomes even more of a drifter adrift. What happens becomes increasingly difficult to determine since actuality and fantasy are indistinguishable in his mind which has skidded. Often he returns to the implication-accusation of the title-on the way to Port Said a Jew holds him responsible as an Englishman for the tragedy of his race's genocide. Townrow chafes at the charges-"It's quite all right to hate people for what they've done in the past but not when it confuses you about the real world you live in." Before long it is evident that Townrow is totally confused about himself and the questions of individual and collective guilt, of allegiance and neutrality lead on to that of personal identity. At no point is Townrow sure who he is or what he now is involved in: his succor of the rich, older widow of a Lebanese entrepreneur (gun runner?) who was killed on the streets; his ambivalent affair with the daughter of her lawyer whose husband is in a mental hospital. Events move swiftly against the violence and anarchy of the city under constant shelling; they are skillfully managed as a photomontage for Townrow's disorientation. A little Kafka-a little Greene-a little Ambler in a charade which is also an expertly agile entertainment poised between the unsuspected and the unknown. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

P. H. Newby (1918-1997) was an English novelist and broadcasting administrator. His first novel, A Journey into the Interior, was published in l946. He was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1948, and he was the first winner of the Booker (now Man Booker) Prize - his novel Something to Answer For received the inaugural award in 1969. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Colin C on 23 July 2009
Format: Paperback
I would be quite surprised if (m)any readers come to read this book for any reason other than that they are trying to get through the whole Booker winner list. 'Something to Answer For' has long been out of print and now that it has been reprinted in a nice edition by F&F, it's easier to complete the list. I may be wrong about this, but that was my motivation for reading it, anyway!

The book concerns a central character, Townrow, who is in Egypt having left behind a very shady past embezzling funds from a charity in the UK. He is looking for an old lady, and chasing several ghosts of men who may or may not have been killed in connection to his misdeeds. He is also carrying on a love affair with an elusive woman. The problem I had with this novel is that, because of the deliberately ambiguous style of storytelling and construction, the book becomes increasingly harder and harder to follow. The author clearly intended to reflect Townrow's mental state in the actual prose of the novel and in that he certainly succeeded however by the end of the novel I found myself feeling very frustrated and completely at a loss about what was happening, or had happened. This was probably Newby's plan, but it didn't leave a satisfied feeling with this reader, and few other modern readers are likely to enjoy this book on any more than a stylistic level.

It is saved, in part, by descriptions of 1950s Egypt and some vividly drawn scenes (which may have been reality or dream), but overall this novel really is for Booker completists only. Approach with caution (unless you thrive on very elliptical, confusing, highly stylised novels).
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By jeff knapp on 15 July 2008
Format: Paperback
P.H. Newby (1917-1997) won the first Booker Prize in 1969 for his novel "Something to Answer For."

I'm working my way through the Booker Prize list and found this novel along with David Storey's "Saville" the most difficult to come by.Indeed, most or all of Newby's eighteen novels seem to be out-of-print.

That's not to say this novel is not worth reading. It is a challenge though. I would call it a piece of fictional deconstruction. Our Hero, or anti-hero, Townrow, is living in England and manages a fund which gives money to deserving causes. Townrow, we learn later, is skimming money from the fund and feeling no remorse about it. He receives a letter from an old friend in Egypt where he was stationed during his years in the service. Mrs. Khoury writes that her husband has died - she suspects he was murdered - and would Townrow come and help her get things in order if she pays for his ticket.
Townrow agrees and off we go! This is where the fictional deconstruction starts. Is Townrow after her money? Is he English or Irish? People along the way call him by different names. Major this or Sergeant that. What exactly was is history in Egypt?
Townrow has a habit of reliving the past again and again in his mind and this is thrown in to the mix muddying the waters. On top of that he is brutally attacked and receives a vicious head injury. Questions lead to more and more questions.

All this is set against the backdrop of Nassar's Egypt in 1956 when the country nationalized the Suez Canal and Britain, France and Israel answered with force.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Calypso on 30 Sep 2011
Format: Paperback
P.H.Newby is not an author that is well known and I only came across this book because it was the first Booker prize winner.

Set against the backdrop of the Suez Crisis, the story centres on Townrow, an ex-army NCO and manager of a small charity from which we discover he has embezzled funds. He makes his way back to Egypt, where he was based in the army to discover more about the death of a friend, Elie Khoury, and to persuade his widow to make him her beneficiary. Along the way he falls for a married woman, Leah and is obsessed by her. The story is written from a very tight point of view, verging in places to stream of consciousness. This makes it a challenging read and Townrow an unreliable narrator. We are never entirely clear about his identity, his background or his motives. This gives the story an enigmatic feel.

Having read it I remain unclear as to whether this is a study in madness or a story focused on the minutiae of thought. There are some powerful scenes and some almost schizophrenic moments, for example Townrow seems oblivious to the fighting in the streets, but then concerned about less threatening environments.

An unusual and interesting read.
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It starts fine and finishes fine, but meanders around in circles in the middle.

Which reflects Townrow's, the hero, state as he gets smacked on the head and nearly killed after which he has trouble figuring out what he is doing, why he is doing it, where he is from and who he actually is. He has memories which he thinks may be from the future, or perhaps other peoples'.

He's confused.

The writing is never confused, though. It is really well written, a pleasure to read.

When Townrow is stumbling about in his dis-orientated state Newby manages to give a convincing example of how a down-and-out can become marginalised and abandoned. Townrow is only saved through the obligatory, but confusing, love of a good woman.

All this to a background of the Suez Crises and gun-running to Cyprus.
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