“Something to Answer For” By P.H.Newby – 1969 Booker Prize-Winner – A Highly Entertaining Romp

Something to Answer For” delivers on all fronts. Rich use of language and colourful characters, combine with themes of mental disarrangement and comic scenarios to make a highly entertaining and satisfying read, laced with pathos and longing. 

Our main man, Townrow (whose name I kept misreading as “tomorrow” throughout), answers the call from the distressed wife of an old friend, whose premature death raises questions and difficulties. 

Despite considering the obstacles, Townrow  sets off for Egypt and the adventure begins.

From the outset it is clear that Townrow is a slightly unscrupulous character and we are never quite certain exactly what his motives are.

Nevertheless, Townrow is an endearing personality and the various scrapes he gets into, some quite brutal, although usually comic, invoke our sympathy and we can’t help liking him. Despite his rather cavalier attitude to almost everything, Townrow does have morals and a conscience. 

The story is woven through the social and political turmoil of the Suez crisis through a haze of mental confusion.

It’s very funny in places but also sprinkled with moments of real pathos. You can’t help feeling for Townrow in his mental disarray, despite which he perseveres in his quest for the truth – to discover what happened to his old friend, Elie.

Townrow (did you just misread that too?) is determined but clumsy and manages to get himself into a number of near-fatal scrapes as well as an improbable romance. Faced with the hurdles posed by the Egyptian police, local characters who knew Elie (friends or foes?), the environment and his own confusion, Townrow survives attempts on his life and threats to his liberty. Apparently against insurmountable odds he doesn’t always win through, although he dishes out a certain amount or retribution on his journey along the way.

Sometimes it is hard to tell what is reality and what is a dream and this is also Townrow’s struggle, right to the very end.

Something to Answer For” is a highly engaging and entertaining book, whose main character invokes pathos and whose setting really comes alive through skill of the writer. You really want Townrow to so well but you always fear for him. 

I love this book and recommend it highly. A great introduction to the Booker Prize.

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