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Something to Answer For

3.13  ·  Rating Details ·  380 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
P. H. Newby's seventeenth novel Something To Answer For was assured of a place in literary history when it won the inaugural Booker Prize in 1969.

It was 1956 and Townrow was in Port Said - of these two facts he is reasonably certain. He had been summoned by the widow of his deceased friend Elie Khoury. She is convinced Elie was murdered, but nobody seems to agree with her.
Paperback, 284 pages
Published 2008 by Faber and Faber (first published January 1st 1968)
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May 03, 2012 Kinga rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dreamy-books
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
Oct 15, 2016 Mariel rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: a man needs an enemy
Recommended to Mariel by: his alibi
Townrow saw himself floating in and out of this dream for the rest of his life, and each time there would be a new twist. Next time there would be no nuns and the warship would be American. There would be times when there was a cross on the dead man’s chest and there would be times when there was not. The terrible thing about the form this particular dream took was the longing.

Townrow is a snake that eats his own skin to hide the evidence. He would be the nightmare victim in horror films who dar
Angus McKeogh
Mar 27, 2017 Angus McKeogh rated it really liked it
The inaugural Booker Prize winning novel from Newby. Way different than what I was expecting, but in a good way. Steeped in mystery because of the narrator's memory issues; however, the story maintains its appeal and I felt it never got so entirely strange that I couldn't follow the plot line. Rest assured everything is revealed in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Recommended!
Lucian McMahon
Mar 19, 2014 Lucian McMahon rated it really liked it
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
Mar 02, 2013 Ensiform rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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.
Feb 02, 2012 Courtney H. rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookers
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
Jul 28, 2010 dirt rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 21, 2009 Mandy rated it liked it
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
Apr 05, 2012 David rated it really liked it
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
Jan 05, 2016 Kenneth rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, man-booker
This is probably one of the worst books I've ever read. Calling it erratic wouldn't be enough, as the plot is all over the place, with some sort of slipping/skipping timeline that never offers any sort of orientating anchor. None of the characters offer any depth or complexity of personality, and the plot.... What can I say about the plot? After 285 pages, I have no clue what the whole point of the book was.

I would never have finished this novel if I wasn't planning on reading every winner of t
Aug 02, 2014 Ian rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 12, 2014 David rated it it was ok
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
Feb 21, 2017 Mike rated it liked it
A difficult book to rate. On one hand it's well written and interesting, clearly in the realm of literature, and on the other hand the protagonist is intensely unlikable and the situations he describes painful to read. I couldn't even finish the book, stopping just short of halfway.

Dec 20, 2009 Katy added it
Shelves: 2008-to-unknown
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
Beverley Smith
Nov 19, 2015 Beverley Smith rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2016
Man Book Book Prize is awarded for the best original novel, written in English and published in the United Kingdom. The first book to ever receive the award was in 1969, and was titled, ‘Something To Answer For’ by P H Newby.

Townrow is working as a Trust Fund dispenser in London, when he receives a letter from Mrs Khoury in Cairo. Mrs Khoury’s husband, Eli, was a friend of Townrow’s and the letter he received stated that, Eli had been murdered and to come at once. Although, Townrow has his reser
Feb 19, 2013 Tonymess rated it really liked it
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
Sep 12, 2013 Joe rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-winners

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
Joe Clarke
Sep 12, 2013 Joe Clarke rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-winners

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
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
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
May 20, 2014 Becky rated it liked it
Shelves: booker-winners
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
Sep 28, 2014 Cristina Escobar rated it liked it
Shelves: booker
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
May 13, 2012 Jafar rated it it was ok
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
Glen U
Nov 22, 2016 Glen U rated it liked it
"Something to Answer For" was the inaugural winner of the Man Booker prize for literature. A story of a middle aged ex-soldier who is in Egypt at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. It is more of a coming of age, self-realization tale as the protagonist wrestles with his own reality and those of a Jewish-American woman and an elderly widow of an old friend. While the prose is quite good, the story is dated. Perhaps in 1968, the book was innovative and relevant, it does not travel well through t ...more
Rogue Wilson
Mar 22, 2013 Rogue Wilson rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2011 Samantha rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-prize
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
Sally Flint
Feb 13, 2014 Sally Flint rated it liked it
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
Dec 15, 2008 Jen rated it did not like it
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... thieving little old British Empire goes into Egypt after the Suez Canal is nationalised. But even though Suez is a military success (in conjunction with Israel) and the Egyptian army is well and truly beaten we get our balls felt by the Americans. There's the plot - just add an unreliable narrator, magic realism, characters representing those nationalities and stir. Memorable in a Catch 22 sort of way.
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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
More about P.H. Newby...

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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?”
“It amazed him the Egyptians treated them so well. Perhaps they would come back in a few minutes and shoot them. They were bad organizers. The British might deliberately give a man breakfast before shooting him. The Egyptians would intend not to and then forget to warn the kitchen.” 0 likes
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