Book 1: The Sheltering Sky

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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
Book: 1/52
Completed: August 15, 2015
Purchased: Tsunami Books in Eugene, OR

This is the second book that I’ve read by Paul Bowles. The first was a collection of short stories called The Delicate Prey which I picked up at a used book store during our trip to New Orleans in the Spring. I would have preferred to grab one of his novels instead, as I tend away from short stories, but it was all they had and I really enjoyed most of it. I think I’m just turned off after being assigned an excess of Flannery O’Conner during a college creative writing course.

I set out to read Bowles after viewing an Anthony Bourdain special on Morocco/Tangiers. He highlighted the influx of expat Western writers and musicians during the 1920-1950’s including Tennessee Williams and William S. Burroughs. This period is absolutely fascinating to me, and I feel a bit cheated that it was never a part of any of my curriculums. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about it, this link is a good start: The International Zone: Expat Writers in Tangier.

The Sheltering Sky strips away the romanticism of a white man’s plunge into the great unknown. It may even surpass Conrad’s portrayal of “the horror” and darkness found there. It’s odd because he chose to live so much of his life as an expat, seemingly without being chewed up and spit out as his characters were. Certainly there is more darkness than beauty in the culture portrayed in the novel. Perhaps he set out to discourage others from following him, thereby spoiling the authenticity. Maybe it isn’t about either of those things. Maybe it’s just honest.

Did I like the ending? Very much so. I also liked where each of the character’s journeys led them, except that I had a hard time suspending disbelief about select events related to Mrs. Moresby when she went off the rails.

Rating: 9/10
Would I read more by the author?: Absolutely. I was even motivated to watch all 3.5 hours of Lawrence of Arabia after reading this (obviously not the same subject matter or setting, but the parallels are there.) I particularly look forward to reading nonfiction related to Morocco during the early-middle 20th century.

Avalon

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