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.
For me, the deconstruction of the usual advantages of knowing time, place and identity leave us with a stripped down character of Townrow - with passed uncertain, loyalties uncertain, questionable character and future unclear and no personal relationships - does a man have "Something to Answer For"? It forces the reader to rethink what is truly important to one and where to take a stand and why.
I enjoyed this novel and recommend it to those who want a literary challenge that keeps you thinking long after finishing it. As we all know, writers go in and out of fashion to be rediscovered at a later time. I wonder if this intelligent and thought-provoking writer is due for a resurgence soon.