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Something to Answer For

3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  268 ratings  ·  41 reviews
It was 1956 and he was in Port Said. About these two facts Townrow was reasonably certain. He had been summoned there, to Egypt, by the widow of his deceased friend, Elie Khoury. Having been found dead in the street, she is convinced he was murdered, but nobody seems to agree with her. What of Leah Strauss, the mistress?
284 pages
Published 2008 by Faber and Faber (first published January 1st 1968)
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There was a time when ‘readability’ was the least important factor which the Booker Prize Jury took into consideration. At least that must’ve been the case back 1969 when they awarded the inaugural Booker to P.H. Newby for his novel ‘Something to Answer For’. Of course back then Booker Prize was some niche award that didn’t even have its ceremony and the winner was informed by post. The jury didn’t have to worry about sparking national debate with their choices.

I see that many reviewers called
Lucian McMahon
A bewildering little book. Is it man's quest for meaning and values in a world that signifies and offers neither? Inscrutable events on an international scale as a background and foil to an individual's essentially senseless, meaningless actions? It's hard to tell. Our main character-cum-third-person-narrator seems to have suffered some severe head-trauma fairly early into the book after a black-out booze binge in an Egyptian dive-bar. After all, what indeed are the past and the future in a narr ...more
The winner of the first Booker Prize, this novel takes place during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis and centers on Jack Townrow, a British man who makes his living as a corrupt Fund Distributor. With nothing holding him to home, when he is asked to come to Egypt (called the UAR in the novel though that seems to be chronologically off) by Mrs. Khoury, the widow of a man he met ten years earlier in Cairo, he goes. On the way, during a stopover in Rome, Townrow gets into an argument with two men over Br ...more
Courtney H.
Because I seem unable to stop drawing comparisons between the various Bookers that I've read, I figured I'd try to go back and give at least some sort of review. Of course, my memory is like a sieve so I don't really remember anything I read more than two hours ago, which means these reviews should be taken with a grain of salt at least.

PH Newby was the first Booker I read after making the decision to go through them all. It was not what I expected; and to be honest I'm not sure anyone could exp
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This is a tough one for sure. I picked it up (actually, Joe gave it to me) because it was the first book ever to win the Booker Prize. I can tell you that not much has changed since 1969 in terms of the prize committee awarding books that are challenging but - generally speaking - pretty rewarding. This one required me to turn to Wikipedia to brush up my knowledge (haha, as if I had any in the first place) of the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956, which the book takes place during. It follows an English ...more
Cristina Escobar
PH Newby's Something to Answer For is part farce, part spy caper and part magical realism. Together, it makes for a confusing but intriguing novel. The book revolves around Townrow who narrates the story. He is maybe a spy, probably a con man and definitely a man with an interesting past. A decidedly unreliable narrator, Townrow travels to Cairo to "help" a widow manage her fortune and gets caught up in the war there. The novel veers into romance, survivalist fiction and political critique along ...more
Sally Flint
Finished PH Newby's Somthing to Answer For. Gosh it was so confusing. I had planned to keep all my Booker books nice and neat but my copy is stained torn and tatty representing my frustration with it. Really unsure even of some aspects of plot. Think the protagonist comes good with his conscience, learns to love, learns to understand himself. The Suez crisis adds a sense of the text taking place in surreal circumstances and the characters are fluid and unsure throughout. Glad I read it though, l ...more
James Barnard
I wouldn’t have read this one if it wasn’t for the fact this was the first winner of the Booker Prize. But I’m glad I did – it’s a very worthy novel, and it’s quite fun to trace the evolution of said prize from a relatively obscure way of recognising non-popular novels, to the yardstick it is today.

‘Something to Answer For’ is not an easy read – in fact, if I’m any judge, Newby took a resolutely non-popularist approach in terms of form, style and structure. This is the tale of an apparently amne
Hmmn. I liked this book and didn't like this book.

To explain, this book is about a rather shallow man who goes to Port Said in Egypt just about exactly as the Suez Canal crisis erupts in the 1950's. Interesting, especially for me, as my Dad's family had to flee Egypt leaving lots of their property behind, some of which is still being battled to be reclaimed even still.

In this book the fleeing bit is at the end - the background is the few months when Nassar claims the canal before the English wi
Alex Rendall
Something to Answer For is not a particularly complicated novel in terms of plot: Townrow, the protagonist, goes to Egypt at the request of the wife of a friend, who believes that her late husband was murdered. Mostly set in the Egyptian city of Port Said during the Suez Crisis of 1956, it portrays the adventures of Townrow, as he faces up to not only the conflict occurring around him between Egypt and her former colonial rulers, France and Great Britain, but also the conflict within himself bet ...more
Jun 10, 2012 Katy added it
Reflections and discussion questions from The Booker Prize Book Club:

According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography’s entry on this the first Booker Prize winner, “some found the award to Newby’s novel ironic because the prize was created and given by a company that represented values questioned in the novel… Booker Brothers McConnell, a multinational conglomerate, sold popular fiction as one of its commodities along with rum, sugar, and engineering products.” The company has 51% of future ri
Joe Clarke

Britain goes back to Egypt a few years after it had left, gets beaten up, has an identity crisis and drifts off, uncertain of its place in the world.
Sorry, sorry. Townrow, the hero, goes back to Egypt etc., etc.
When this was written the Suez Crisis would have been fresh enough in everybody’s mind for it work as a metaphor for Britain’s search for its new role in a post-war world. All these years later and, for cultural eedjits like me, it has to stand on its own as a novel. Which it does,quite w
I had been trying to purchase a copy of the inaugural Booker Winner for a number of years, with not a lot of success. First editions, mint condition etc. were available for hugely inflated prices and it wasn’t until Faber and Faber recently re-released it in paperback that I was able to obtain a copy.

Let’s flashback to 1969 – a cursory glance at the internet will show you it was a time when man first walked on the moon, massive public rallies against the Vietnam War were being held, 300,000 peop
Once I've read a book I like to read a few reviews and see how my thoughts stack up against what the general consensus is. There seems to be an overriding opinion that this book is too confusing and the characters aren't likable enough.

On the second point, I think Townrow especially is not very likable, but he sets himself up. He's honest all the time that he's not a very nice person, and in that sense you admire his honesty and his sense of self.

Once again in terms of the complexity, it's an i
A disturbing, but beautifully written book. The unreliable narrator that tells this story often leaves you confused - about his identity, his motives and the true course of events that revolve around the Suez crisis. The book needs concentration, otherwise the narrative slips away. The reader is taken into a world where reality, history, motives and relationships all bend and distort and the result is a read that has few anchors - just like the narrator's life. An intriguing read.
Weird. Liked the Cairo descriptions and the dreamy quality to some of the interactions, but it feels like a B-list attempt at matching the ascendent American postmodern lit scene that led to the establishment of the Booker Prize in the first place.
Disappointing first attempt to conquer the Booker list. This book is like an irritating drunken dream - I have no idea what the point was or why it was written
This book was a really slow start for me. It took me a month to read the first 100 pages. But once I finally got into it, I really enjoyed it. Townrow was a very closed off character, but turned out to be quite sympathetic, if still difficult to figure out. The plot is still pretty confused in my head, and I'm trying to figure out exactly what happened, and, more importantly, in what order. But I generally found it to be an interesting treatise on the nature of memory and identity, and the role ...more
Quirky cast of characters in the Egypt during the Suez crisis. Not as much of a page turner as other Booker winners.
Susan Wilson
Whilst the plot appears relatively simple at the outset, it quickly becomes apparent the complications arise because the narrator is confused and unreliable. This could have become tiring but was so beautifully written that I found myself rereading many pages just to enjoy the sentence structures and descriptors a second time. I felt confused much of the time and so, in my opinion, this novel really worked. Beware this is a novel of it's time though and the occasional racist and sexist views are ...more
Helen Smith
This book is absolutely insane, and while I think I like it, I am not sure what it is about, or why, and am not convinced the narrator knows either
The first book to win the Man Booker Prize, but just about everything with this book, from its writing to its characters, was mediocre and/or annoying. Yes, I got the literary "trick" here: an unreliable narrator. Townrow is confused. To make it worse, he was beaten senseless in the beginning of the story and was left with a severe head injury. He doesn't really know who he is, not even whether he's English or Irish. People call him by different names and he's not sure if he knows them or not. E ...more
Donna Pelley
The first Booker prize winner. I really liked it. He writes as if he's a painter, very visual.
Booker Prize 1969.

Read this as part of my quest to read all the Booker Prize winners.

Actually I didn't finish it. I really just didn't like it at all. It started out with promise but quickly became tedious. I have finally come to a place in my life where I feel that I can put down a book if I'm not enjoying it. Why waste the time reading something I'm not enjoying? I have slogged through so many crappy books, telling myself there will be some great turnaround and the story will redeem itself so
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Townrow might be the most unreliable narrator I have come across - it is impossible to distinguish what is actually happening and what is fantasy in his head. I do think he might actually be in Egypt, but whether or not people are dead or alive, whether the British are attacking the Suez canal or not, and whether he is good or bad is a complete mystery. This is the first recipient of the Booker prize, and to be honest that is a bit of a mystery to me as well.
So this was awarded first Booker prize. One can only hope the books get better. I found it a chore to read, disjointed, with unlikeable characters ( major Townrow, his mistressLeah,) Very confusing storyline. I waded through it only because I have set myself task of reading all the Booker prize winners. I am beginning to have doubts about my challenge.
I am only half way through but this book is a pleasant surprise. Winner of the first Booker Prize a lot of the reviews give it a barely passable rating. I on the other hand have found it quite entertaining. Starting the tradition of Booker unreliable narrators, at least this one is like able. If you like drunken con men.
It is always interesting to read Booker winners but I have rather mixed feelings about this one (the first). At face value it reads like a comic picaresque dream story, a confusing narrative set in Egypt during the Suez crisis, but it addresses wider issues of responsibility, national identity and the end of the British empire.
Um, I've no idea what I just read. I didn't hate it, but I've honestly no idea what this was about or how it managed to win the inaugural Booker Prize.
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Newby - praise 2 9 Oct 17, 2014 06:53AM  
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Percy Howard Newby CBE (25 June 1918 – 6 September 1997) was an English novelist and broadcasting administrator. He was the first winner of the Booker Prize, his novel Something to Answer For having received the inaugural award in 1969.

Early life
P.H. Newby, known as Howard Newby, was born in Crowborough, Sussex on 25 June 1918 and was educated at Hanley Castle Grammar School in Worcestershire, an
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“It’s me, you fool. Who do you think it is? I’m coming in.”
He was already naked. She turned away from him as he slipped in by her side but he caught her in his arms and felt her body thaw his belly and thighs. That was all, just to lie there listening to the breathing and the silence and feel the warmth colour his belly and thighs and head. She never wore clothes in bed. They were naked and the warmth run out of her. He wanted to laugh, because it was such a marvelous discovery to make, this warmth. She was hissing like a snake.
“No, it’s wrong.” She went on hissing.
She brought an elbow back smartly and struck him in the paunch. She seemed all elbows, shoulder blades and heels. It was like trying to make love to a dough-mixing machine. She wanted it, didn’t she, otherwise why all this hissing and moaning?”
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