Monday, February 20, 2023

Something to Answer For: The First Booker Winner

 "The British might deliberately give a man breakfast before shooting him. The Egyptians would intend not to and then forget to warn the kitchen."

Something To Answer For is a novel by P H Newby, which has the distinction of being the first book awarded with the Booker. I looked about the book on internet out of sheer curiosity. The reviews that I found there were not at all flattening. The book had received some appreciation during it's publication, but time hasn't been that appreciative of it. 

I decided to read the novel as an exercise to quench my curiosity, and on completing it confirm most of the complaints of the reviews that I read before. The plot is not at all accessible and will find difficult to resonate with today's readers. The story that happens with the Suez canal crisis as the background, is strictly of it's time and doesn't contain anything of universal appeal. The plot, whatever threadbare one that we find in it is inconclusive and doesn't provide any respite to the casual reader. 

But I cannot deny that it is beautifully written. The prose is crisp, characterisation is sharp and the narration is Kafkaesque. It is the story of a conman named Townrow, who is called on to Egypt by a widow who believe her husband is killed. Townrow is an ultimate unreliable narrator who is even confused about the country from which he is from. The surreal adventures that he stumbles on makes us wonder what his intention is, what his motives are and where his allegiance lies. 

While reading Something To Answer For, I felt that the situation of the protagonist basically alludes to the ideologically and morally dubious stand of UK in the Suez canal crisis. It tries to compare such activities done by an elected government with the immoral ways of an individual when both are trying to profit from a crisis situation. 

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