Publisher: Faber & Faber
Length: 284 pages
About: Murder mystery in 1950s Egypt
Style: 3rd person
It was 1956 and he was in Port Said. About these two facts he was reasonably certain but a murderous attack left him certain about little else – maybe just the conviction that the British usually
did the right thing and that to be a crook a man must assume the society he lived in was honest.
The old girl kept writing and complaining about the police. It was enough to start Townrow on a sequence of dreams. Night after night he floated in the sunset-flushed, marine city. He could smell
the salt and the jasmine. He dreamed that Mrs Khoury, Mr Khoury and he were all sailing out of the harbor in a boat that slowly filled with water. He dreamed he was in a hot, dark room with a lot of
men who argued and shouted. It must have been in the Greek Sailing Club because when a door opened there were oars and polished skiffs; and opposite, high over Simon Artz’s, of the other side of the
Canal, was Johnnie Walker with his cane and his top hat setting off for Suez. Or was it the Med.?
Events move swiftly against the violence and anarchy of the city under constant shelling; they are skillfully managed as a photomontage for Townrow's disorientation. A little Kafka-a little
Greene-a little Ambler in a charade which is also an expertly agile entertainment poised between the unsuspected and the unknown.
March 28th 1969 Kirkus Review
For full review click here.
The only firm conclusion I've been able to draw is that this book is a victim of the vagaries of fate. The simple fact is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's 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
The Guardian Book Blogs, Sam Jordison, 21st November 2007 For full review click
Not so good:
Townrow might be the most unreliable narrator I have come across - it is
impossible to distinguish what is actually happening and what is fantasy in his head. I do think he might actually be in Egypt, but whether or not people are dead or alive, whether the British are
attacking the Suez canal or not, and whether he is good or bad is a complete mystery. This is the first recipient of the Booker prize, and to be honest that is a bit of a mystery to me as
Good Reads Jenny, March 9th 2007
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About the author
P H Newby was born in 1918 in Crowborough, Sussex. In October 1939 he was sent to France, to fight in the war as a private, in a Medical Corps Unit. He was released from duty in December 1942, and
taught English Literature at Fouad 1st University, Cairo. When his first novel, A Journey into the Interior (1946) was published, he returned to England to write. He was the first winner of the
Booker Prize, his novel Something to Answer For (1969). He was given a CBE for his work as Managing Director of BBC Radio. P H Newby died in 1997.