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Something to Answer For Paperback – May 11, 2011
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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.
Top customer reviews
What I loved about this book was the uncertainty; trying to figure out what was real and what was not. I felt this kept me more engaged and reading more carefully for the little clue that would make it all clear. Newby does a fantastic job of making you connect with the protagonist, Townrow, and after a long stretch of reading I couldn't help but carry a little bit of his confusion with me, making me question some of my basic assumptions about who I am. It is also refreshing to have stories like this where the character, even after making some dubious choices throughout his life, can still draw you in and remind you that it isn't always black and white: doing something considered morally suspect does not make one a bad person. I love when books make you connect and feel for a person that you might otherwise judge based on a few of their actions.
"Something to Answer For" kept me enthralled from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it for a challenging, insightful read.
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.