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The First Booker Winner
on 23 July 2009
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).