Kinga's Reviews > Something to Answer For

Something to Answer For by P.H. Newby
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Nov 19, 12

bookshelves: dreamy-books
Read in May, 2012

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 this novel confusing, disjointed, with unlikeable characters and I’d like to tell them: ‘man up, please!’ Yes, it is difficult but it’s rewarding. It needs time, patience and attention. It’s like that girl who is so hard to turn on but once you dedicate some time to the task and figure it out, she’s fire.

And this book is beautiful and it’s fire. It uses the strangest literary technique of an unreliable third person narrator. The third person is nominal only because in fact we are stuck in Townrow’s, the main character’s, head. And this head receives a blow quite early on and confounds Townrow. We share some of the frustration when he tries to piece everything together and decide who is a friend and who is a foe.
The facts are few: it’s 1956, he came to Egypt to help Mrs Khoury, widow of his friend Ellie. Mrs Khoury believes her husband was murdered, so Townrow is there to offer support, help solve the mystery, con Mrs Khoury into handing all her assets to him…? It’s rather hard to say. The same events are told and retold, they change their significance as Townrow remembers whole new episodes that followed or preceded them.

As Townrow wanders around Port Said in a confused state and falls in love with Leah, a married woman, the history happens in the background. Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal which causes a diplomatic and then a military crisis. This in turn causes a crisis for Townrow, who in his overheated head was only sure of one thing, that the British government was essentially good and just. He suspected that he himself was of rather questionable morals but he could sleep at night because he knew that the people who make all the decisions are free of such flaws.

He painfully realises that it is only his actions he can be somewhat sure of, and that he is responsible for them, because everyone has ‘something to answer for’. So there starts the most bizarre quest for redemption of a character who can’t even remember if he is British or Irish, that is, whether he is a side in the conflict or a neutral observer.

At times Townrow even suspects himself to be American, and occasionally when in her arms, he half wishes to turn out to be the estranged husband of his lover, Leah. P.H.Newby knows how to write romance and sexual tension. I know it seems unlikely when looking at his photos and remembering he was the director of BBC Three, but I am sure he could show a girl a good time. Or maybe it’s me. Maybe I just get turned on by superb writing, gentle, underlying humour, a knack for vivid description, an ear for dialogue… Yes, it could be just me.

In the end of ‘Something to Answer For’ we don’t quite know whether Townrow was good or bad and whether he redeemed himself or quite the opposite, reached the heights of moral corruption. The novel did a circle and took us to the beginning with Townrow coming to the conclusion that what he thought was his past is actually his future.

PH Newby’s main claim to fame might be the fact he was the inaugural Booker Prize winner, something irrelevant back then, but a crown achievement for a writer today. And it’s true I would’ve never got to read ‘Something to Answer For’ if it weren’t for the Booker thing, but now I want to read more Newby’s novels. And I will be kept busy for long as he wrote some twenty-three of them.
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Quotes Kinga Liked

P.H. Newby
“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?”
P.H. Newby, Something to Answer For
tags: love, sex, women


Reading Progress

05/11/2012 page 224
79.0%
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Kaleb (new) - added it

Kaleb read some to me.


Kinga “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?


message 3: by Kaleb (new) - added it

Kaleb [heart]


message 4: by Kaleb (new) - added it

Kaleb [∞]


message 5: by Paul (new)

Paul great review! only 9 votes! another goodreads crime!


Kinga AW, thanks, Paul! Do you think I should be pimping them more?


message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul YES!


Kinga I believe floating reviews is morally wrong but as I've noticed this review is actually missing a period in the penultimate paragraph, I'm left with no choice but to edit it. :D


message 9: by Paul (last edited Nov 19, 2012 05:31AM) (new)

Paul here's a disco song to help

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZklwT...

Float on, float float on (er, please ignore the rest of the lyrics - !!)


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