Review: Something to Answer for, by P.H. Newby

Something to Answer For takes place during the 1956 Suez Crisis.  This was one of those typically complicated political tangles, and one I knew little about.  The crisis involved military action by the British and French, in response to Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal (which in itself was a response to American actions taken when Egypt recognized the People’s Republic of China … and on and on …).

Jack Townrow walks into the middle of all this when his friend Elie Khoury’s widow writes to him requesting help to investigate her husband’s death and settle his affairs.  Against his better judgment he travels to Egypt.  En route he meets a Jewish man who accuses Townrow — or, rather, the British — of allowing the Holocaust to happen.  Townrow is aghast, certain the British government would have prevented genocide if they had known about it.  He is equally certain the British can only do good in Egypt.

Soon after his arrival, Townrow is attacked and forgets his identity, his nationality, and many other details.  He still tries hard to help Mrs. Khoury, although he questions whether Elie is really dead and sometimes goes off in search of him.  He falls for a young woman named Leah, but  evil and suspicion lurk around every corner, and it’s difficult for Townrow — and the reader — to tell who the “good guys” really are.

Townrow’s character appears to be a metaphor for the British Empire losing its colonial power, and I’m sure the events were still fresh in readers’ minds when this book was published in 1968.  But the metaphor didn’t work for me, I found the plot a bit surreal, and the book very difficult to follow.  It just wasn’t my thing.

10 thoughts on “Review: Something to Answer for, by P.H. Newby

  1. Just the description of this one makes my head spin a little. I’m not at all familiar with the Suez Crisis, sad to say, but you’ve got me curious. I’m just not sure this is the book to read to learn more about it.

    • If you want to learn about the Suez Crisis, I’m sure there are better sources. This book seemed to presume a level of knowledge, which sent me to Wikipedia 🙂

  2. Oh no! I’m sorry your last Booker wasn’t more enjoyable, but CONGRATULATIONS!!!! on finishing them all. This doesn’t sound like my sort of book either, but I’ll give it a try one day 🙂

  3. Is it because you felt you didn’t know enough of the time or maybe that it didn’t work because the book is dated? I’m not sure if this is a book for me and so it won’t go on any list of mine.

    • Iris, you raise an interesting point. On reflection, I think my lack of knowledge was a significant factor (more so than the book being dated). If I’d understood the history, I would have been more willing to tackle the metaphorical style, etc. And unfortunately the middle east is so complicated that reading a Wikipedia article just isn’t sufficient!

  4. This isn’t a review – well apart from the last two sentences which were barely worth reading.

    What you have done is basically summarise the book, which in no way provides any subjective or objective critque and just spoils it for anyone who may wish to read the novel.

    If you feel the urge to provide an overview of the book, please do not call it a ‘review’.

    • It is my practice to write something about every book I read. But I had difficulty writing a proper review for a book that, as I said, I found difficult to follow and didn’t connect with. I intentionally avoided spoilers and disagree that my plot summary would spoil the book for anyone who wishes to read the novel.

      While we’re at it, your comment isn’t a comment, it’s a personal attack. You did not offer your own opinion on the book; rather, you simply wanted to tell me that I was wrong. I hope you feel better. Any further comments like this will result in me blocking you from this blog.

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