Something to Answer For

London: Faber and Faber, 1968

“Either the girl went off to another part of the beach or she was a vision because Townrow saw no more of her. Of the two possibilities the vision, he thought, was the likelier. The city quivered in her after-glow. The sun was low enough for those clouds to be red. Beyond the black palm trees the Casino Palace Hotel lost its colour, thinned and broke apart over the night rising quickly out of Asia. Concrete, steel, glass, sand and salt water belched a warm sexuality into his face. He could smell all Egypt, from the mud of the Nile to the roasting corn cobs on De Lesseps breakwater. No ordinary girl could have done that to him.

As he shaved a muscle twitched in the corner of his left eye and he put down the razor to look out at the north London roof tops. It was a grey day. Perhaps it would be no bad thing to be out of England for a couple of months.”

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? And of the invading British paratroops? Only an Englishman, surely, would take for granted that the British would have behaved themselves. In this weirdly disorientating world, Townrow is forced towards a re-examination of the basic rules by which he has been living his life; and into a realization that he too may have something to answer for.

Inaugural winner of the Booker Prize in 1969.


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Reviews

“Beautifully written, shot through with crisp, mordant wit, and Newby plays out his narrative with consummate skill to ensure it baffles and intrigues, leaving the readers hooked and thrashing about for meaning, desperate for him to reel things in.”

“The liking for jagged action, for freakish situations and flurries of irrational violence – these betray the hand of an individual and almost alarmingly skilled novelist”

Pat Rogers, The Observer

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