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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky (1949)

by Paul Bowles (Author)

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When I started reading thison Dec 4, 1951, I said: "This is a new novel published by New Directions. I vaguely remember reading an account of some writing by Paul Bowles that interested me muchly but I don't know if this is the book discussed. At all events, what with having read A Long Day's Dying and now this book I may be reading some rather ephemeral stuff and adding nothing to my sum total of reading. However one must keep up to date with the more significant stuff as well as seek to read the immortal old stuff. I'd like to find some new obscure writer I really like--like Truman Capote--if I find another I like as well as I like him, I'd feel rewarded. Buechner I did not like, despite some interest in phases of him. There is a lot of stuff in the library here (I was at the the naval base at Norfolk) I want to read.." On the day I finished the book I said: "'Twas New Directiony okay, powerful in a shocking sort of way, ending in a blaze of push. Much of the early part, with Kit and Port Moresby traveling in north Africa was good writing but the locale combined with the basic inaction to endullenize it for me. Everything was hot, dusty and dirty and jolting, and so I couldn't understnd how the characters were so active and moving. It didn't make sense to me. The closing parts, after Port's death, I did not find necessary to find understandaable and so i followed the story of Kit's running away with interest and admiration for the power of the account." ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Aug 5, 2013 |
I read this when I was 22 or 23 and didn't get it at all. It seemed vaguely important, but also boring and plotless. Re-reading it as I near 30 has been eye-opening. It's a haunting story narrated beautifully.

Bowles made this a kind of anti-novel. It still doesn't really have a plot, but that doesn't bother me as much anymore. It's more an exercise in existentialism, nihilism, and the ennui of Western civilization's bourgeois youth.

Along the way, Bowles displays a penetrating insight into the psychology of a married couple on the outs. Through dialogue and occasional omniscient-narrator comments, he captures the frustrating disconnect and alienation they suffer, mostly through a tragic lack of clear communication. An example from the beginning: "It seems as though there might be some place in the world they could have left alone," said the girl. This was to please her husband, because she regretted having felt annoyed with him about the maps a moment ago. Recognizing the gesture, but not understanding why she was making it, he paid no attention to it. p.7
The entire book is filled with such subtleties. One of my favorite lines is his characterization of Kit, the wife, early on:She was no more disturbed by other people as such, than the marble statue is by the flies that crawl on it. . .p.39 This is just awesome. Bowles doesn't have to directly tell you that she is cold, condescending and unfeeling. He just compares her to a friggin statue.

The level of detail in the book is truly mesmerizing. Bowles is one of the only authors I've ever read who can transport you to a setting just through his flowery descriptions. He remembers details that nobody else does, and they make the scene come alive. Perhaps my favorite such moment:From a grilled window over his head came hard female voices and the metallic sound of kitchen activities, amplified by the stone walls and tile floors. This room, even more than the others, reminded him of a dungeon. The electric bell of the cinema was audible above all the other noises, a constant, nerveracking background. He went to the writing tables, lifted the blotters, opened the drawers, searching for stationery; there was none. Then he shook the inkwells; they were dry. A violent argument had broken out in the kitchen. Scratching the fleshy parts of his hands, where the mosquitoes had just bitten him, he walked slowly out of the room through the foyer, along the corridor into the bar. Even here the light was weak and distant, but the array of bottles behind the bar formed a focal point of interest for the eyes. p.51I could see people arguing that this passage is completely irrelevant, having nothing to do with plot development or even characterization, and they'd probably have a point, although that doesn't make it any less AWESOME. Who can't relate to this guy stuck in a sweaty hotel room with mosquitos biting him? You know EXACTLY what Bowles is talking about, yet how many other authors have shown the attention to detail to put it down? Like I said, he transports you there. You empathize completely, and it's all a part of the lingering hypnotic effect that Bowles weaves around you from the outset.

##SPOILERS## It's not a perfect book, and it mostly has to do with Bowles' non-traditional story telling. There is no real beginning-middle-end, and there's no true plot. It's just a study of characters dealing with the phenomenon of existential angst. It's most noticeable when the main character, Port, dies a little more than halfway through. Until then he has been the most compelling character in the book, so his absence leaves the reader without any real anchor in the story. This makes the nightmarish finale much less gripping than it maybe should have been.

Other than that, I love this book. I guess I just can't recommend it to a lot of people because most of those outside of the literary crowd probably wouldn't get it, just like I didn't the first time around.

( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
I gave this book two stars because two thirds of the book, dealing with a love triangle of three Americans in northern Africa was intriguing, and the descriptive writing was very good. But the last third was a total disaster, probably due to its outdated thinking concerning women and psychology. The woman character was either not very well drawn to begin with or her total collapse into madness at the end was simple unrealistic melodrama based on the misogynistic views of the day. ( )
  vwinsloe | Jun 11, 2013 |
Well, I'm not quite sure what to say about this one. Bowles certainly had an eye for detail and a knack for atmospheric writing: he puts the reader right in the center of North Africa, from the smoke-filled cafes to the dry stretches of the Sahara to the gritty streets. New Yorkers Port and Kit Moresby (joined at times by another American, Tunner) travel through various cities and landscapes of North Africa in 1949, trying, in part, to sort out their troubled marriage. But infidelity and/or suspicion get the better of both of them, and the two travel on separate paths, at least until a crisis briefly reunites them.

I was quite enjoying the novel, depsite its darkness and deeply nihilistic theme, when WHAM! All of a sudden I found myself in the middle of 'The Sheik' with Rudolph Valentino. I sat scratching my head for awhile, wondering what the heck just happened and how the novel had taken this weird turn. I still don't get it. At that point, I plodded through to the end, greatly disappointed (when I wasn't shaking my head or snorting).

I can't recommend this one. So much emotional investment building up to an unbelievable ending that was totally out of sync with the rest of the novel.

If I read anything else by Bowles, it will be because of his style--not his nearly-nonexistent agility with plot or character. ( )
1 vote Cariola | May 3, 2013 |
Unrelenting nihilist perspective. Part of the way through this book, I thought "I should spend my precious moments reading things that appeal to me, instead of forcing myself to finish, no matter what." In the future, I will strive to recall this book and these thoughts and act accordingly... ( )
  alexandriaginni | Apr 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
There is a curiously double level to this novel. The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement.
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[Book One]

"Each man's destiny is personal only insofar as it may happen to resemble what is already in his memory."

--Eduardo Mallea
[Book Two]

"'Good-bye,' says the dying man to the mirror they hold in front of him. 'We won't be seeing each other any more.'"

[Book Three]

"From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached."

To Jane
First words
He awoke, opened his eyes.
Si svegliò, aprì gli occhi. La stanza gli diceva poco o niente, profondamente immerso com'era nel non-essere da cui era appena affiorato. Se l'energia di accertare la propria collocazione nel tempo e nello spazio gli mancava, gliene mancava anche il desiderio. Sapeva soltanto di esistere, d'avere attraversato vaste regioni per ritornare dal nulla; c'era, al centro della sua coscienza, la certezza di una tristezza infinita e al tempo stesso rassicurante, perché era la sola ad essergli familiare.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006083482X, Paperback)

American novelist and short-story writer, poet, translator, classical music composer, and filmscorer Paul Bowles has lived as an expatriate for more than 40 years in the North African nation of Morocco, a country that reaches into the vast and inhospitable Sahara Desert. The desert is itself a character in The Sheltering Sky, the most famous of Bowles' books, which is about three young Americans of the postwar generation who go on a walkabout into Northern Africa's own arid heart of darkness. In the process, the veneer of their lives is peeled back under the author's psychological inquiry.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:56 -0400)

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A beautiful, yet disturbing, tale of two people traveling into the Sahara. Although the couple apear to be smart, independent travelers, they are not equipped to travel into the desert. Thus, each time hardship strikes, pieces of their comfortable lives and the identities they had constructed seem to peel away. The shifting sands and unforgiving sun are metaphors for the shocking and vulgar circumstances that befall them.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141023422, 0141187778

The Library of America

An edition of this book was published by The Library of America.

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