5 stars Someone once had said to her that the sky hides the night behind it, shelters the person beneath from the horror that lies above.
Married couple Port and Kit Moresby, in a physically and emotionally distant relationship, are traveling through northern Africa with their friend Tunner Rejecting America and Europe in post WWII disgust, these travellers not tourists, Port is adamant about the difference hope to find meaning in the mystery of the Sahara.
It doesn t take long for something of a love triangle to form or a love rectangle, if we re going to count Port s nightly wanderings It also doesn t take long for the mood of the inscrutable desert to permeate the travellers It shows how weak the bonds of marriage, friendship and sanity are, as the swirling dunes undo these societal ties with their mesmerizing magic The descent leaves each person to their own limited devices, an internal struggle and terrifying defeat Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life It s that terrible precision that we hate so much But because we don t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well.
The characters struggle with their connections with each other, fighting an urge to repair love with an equal urge to keep at arm s length Truly separate, desolately alone, blind attempts at physical closeness punctuate the book, lending it a sensuality, with an edge Now that he owned her completely, there was a new savageness, a kind of angry abandon in his manner The bed was a wild sea, she lay at the mercy of its violence and chaos as the heavy waves toppled upon her from above Why, at the height of the storm, did two drowning hands press themselves tighter and tighter about her throat Tighter, until even the huge grey music of the sea was covered by a greater, darker noise the roar of nothingness the spirit hears as it approaches the abyss and leans over.
This wouldn t be a complete review if I didn t use the descriptor hypnotic when referring to Paul Bowles writing While the plot isn t particularly strong, the mood and atmosphere is engulfing and drenches every word, every buzzing fly, every bewildered expression, every stolen kiss He spins his readers around and pulls us helplessly along on this existential journey in the desert You re never humanity you re only your own poor hopelessly isolated self.
SPOILERSDeath is always on the way, but the fact that you don t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life It s that terrible precision that we hate so much But because we don t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really How many times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that s so deeply a part of your being that you can t even conceive of your life without it Perhaps four or five times Perhaps not even that How many times will you watch the full moon rise Perhaps twenty And yet it all seems limitless The world is filled with sorrow and adventures When home, we long to be somewhere else When we are somewhere else, we long to be home But what about those who have no home, who belong everywhere and nowhere Port Morseby is such a man He is a man of many lands He doesn t stay faithful to any place, not even to his wife Nor does she stay faithful to him We see their marriage laid bare before us, a fragile thing that, strangely, in the end falls apart not because of the distance between them and all the third parties involved, but because his life is cut short by a disease It is not his passion for other women that unties the knot, but his passion for the world Port Morseby is a travelerHe did not think of himself as a tourist he was a traveler The difference is partly one of time, he would explain Whereas a tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another It is books like this one that make you realize how vast and how small at the same time the world is Our troubles follow us wherever we go And there is always I read once in a book that our problems are like naughty children Let them out and they inevitably come back with friends He moves from one place to another with the ease a chameleon changes its colours, but his soul is transfixedIf he had not the energy to ascertain his position in time and space, he also lacked the desire He was somewhere, he had come back through vast regions from nowhere there was the certitude of an infinite sadness at the core of his consciousness, but the sadness was reassuring, because it alone was familiar There s no reason to be afraid, but I am Sometimes I m not here Then I m far away and all alone No one could ever get there It s too far And there I m alone So alone I can t even remember the idea of not being alone I can t even think what it would be like for there to be someone else in the world When I m there I can t remember being here I m just afraid But here I can remember being there No world is vast enough to heal a restless soul The world is only as big as we let it be There is no Sheltering skyThe landscape was there, and than ever he felt he could not reach it The rocks and the sky were everywhere, ready to absolve him, but as always he carried the obstacle within him He would have said that as he looked at them, they ceased being themselves, that in the act of passing into his consciousness, they became impure It was slight consolation to be able to say to himself I am stronger than they Port s wife, Kit, albeit lacking her husband s adventurous spirit, to me is an even vivid and memorable character, albeit as tragic Wherever her husband goes, she follows, but only out of sense of loyalty A loyalty she preserves even in her moments of intimacy with their mutual friend Tunner It is her soul s desire to please him and find a path to him Maybe part of her failure to do so is due to the fact that she does not know where she comes from Not only that she lacks her husband s impetuousness, but she struggles to preserve even a relative amount of self confidence She is afraid to be herself, she is afraid to take responsibility, to make a choice, to be aliveShe once had thought that if he should die before she did, she would not really believe he was dead, but rather that he had gone back inside himself, and that he never would be conscious of her again that it would be she who would have ceased to exist She would be the one who had entered partially into the realm of death, while he would go on, an anguish inside her, a door left unopened, a chance irretrievably lost Unfortunately, her prediction comes true She is captured physically and emotionally She accepts what comes to her afterwars, she even manages to persuade herself that she enjoys it As I told a GR friend recently, sometimes we tend to accept something, persuade ourselves that it is natural, that we love it, because it is easier than accepting the status of a victim, the reality of who or what we have become Here is what I told my friend Jeffrey as soon as I finished the book We all long for the comfort of not having to deal with responsibility and guilt, not to have to worry and constantly think things through and make choices But what happens to her shows the price we sometimes pay for such freedom And even if we do happen to luck out and turn out into the hands of a reliable person, who wouldn t take advantage of us, it would still not be right laying all the responsibility on someone else It might be hard to constantly make choices, but it is those choices that make us who we are The passage I open my review with, the fact that Port realizes that Kit is the most important thing for him only on his deathbed, the fact that she sees his death aschance irretrievably lostand Tunner s realization that Port had been his best friend only when he is already gone make me think about the often repeated saying that we tend to take things and people for granted and we realize their true value only when it s already too late I had always thought So what I need to spend every waking minute being on the edge Why should my just enjoying what I ve got, without thinking all the time of everything that might go wrong and the end of it all, mean that I don t appreciate it It was only after reading this book that dawned on me that it is not about that It is about making sure that you treat yourself and those around you the right way, that you end up with as little regrest as possible Because, as Port says,how many times will you watch the full moon rise Despite my use of the words adventure and adventurous, this isn t an adventure book, it isn t even really about travelling It is a book about two people being pushed to their limits They fail The journey does not have a happy ending Kit faces challenges she cannot overcome She is broken and defeated But she is alive And as long as there is life, there is hope read count 1 In This Classic Work Of Psychological Terror, Paul Bowles Examines The Ways In Which Americans Apprehend An Alien Culture And The Ways In Which Their Incomprehension Destroys Them The Story Of Three American Travelers Adrift In The Cities And Deserts Of North Africa After World War II, The Sheltering sky Is At Once Merciless And Heartbreaking In Its Compassion It Etches The Limits Of Human Reason And Intelligence Perhaps Even The Limits Of Human Life When They Touch The Unfathomable Emptiness And Impassive Cruelty Of The Dessert This has destroyed me , an utterly devastating work of immense power where the frailties of life both physically and emotionally are pushed to the very limits in a hostile, dangerous and unforgiving land.
Having settled in Tangier in the late 40 s Paul Bowles uses his knowledge and experiences of French North Africa to startling effect American couple Kit and Port Moresby have a marriage that is disintegrating and feel a trip abroad could help repair their relationship, so to avoid a ravaged Europe following the second world war decide to travel through Algeria with their friend Tunner in tow, who clearly has some strong feelings for the beautiful Kit, things were never going to work out as hoped There are Train journeys and bus rides through stunning but harsh landscapes with deserts, valleys, and rugged terrain where the unrelenting heat of the sun is a constant factor during the days, but it s when staying in the small towns where the reel problems start to arise, with general bickering, kit s uncomfortable mood towards their surrounding taking hold and Port disappearing into the night, as couples go it only seems likely they will drift further apart with no signs of happiness on the horizon Slowly an uneasiness starts to creep in, with figures lurking in the shadow s of dark passageways, strange looks from locals they can never be certain about, with fly s buzzing, dogs barking, small children crying, there is a building paranoia, and Paul Bowles does make everything out in a stark, desolate, but realistic way similar to say Cormac Mcarthy, so if your looking for joy it does not exist here, as there were a few passages of writing in particular quite early on of such bleakness I had to go over them again as just couldn t believe my eyes, so he does not exactly portray a place where one would wish to hang around for too long While the first half reads like a travel novel this would only go on to set the scene for when events take a turn into something of almost unbearable tensions that has quite frankly left me shattered.
How fragile we are under the Sheltering sky Behind the Sheltering sky is a vast dark universe, and we re just so smallPaul Bowles, The Sheltering skyPaul Bowles masterpiece reminds me of some alternate, trippy, version of Fitzgerald s Tender Is the Night, but instead we see the other side of the Mediterranean Tangier and the deserts of North Africa take the place of the South of France A different love triangle exposes different forms of loneliness, madness, love, and existential expats.
The thing I love about Bowles is he brings a composer s mind to writing His novel isn t propelled forward by a strong plot although it has plot or attractive characters none of the characters are very attractive , but the music of his language alone pushes and pulls, tugs and compels the reader page after page It felt very much like I was floating limp and languid in Bowles prose as his hypnotic sentences washed over me and drifted me slowly toward the inevitable end.
Most days, I don t feel a real need to read a book twice I might need to make an exception for The Sheltering sky.
Each man s destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Sheltering sky with that strange act of framing that so many authors employ, using the words of others to summarize or introduce the feelings that they are about to try to invoke in their readers Above this quote is another phrase Tea in the Sahara, a chapter title, now familiar but difficult to place This was taken by none other than the band The Police, to introduce their own work, a song of the same name that recreates a story from The Sheltering sky It s an interesting little web and indicative, I think, of the kind of impact that this book seems to have on people, or at least on those who love it.
I did strange things because of this book I bought leather bound antique tomes written by T.
E Lawrence, and read them to a friend while wrapped in blankets and candlelight, hiding from a snowstorm, which we both pretended was sand and not ice I became obsessed with the notions of breath and spirit that are espoused by the Touareg people of the Sahara desert I planned films I devoured the works of Isabelle Eberhardt, an early pioneer of female gender bending and exotic adventure And finally, I bought a one way ticket to Morocco to see Mr Bowles, himself.
What happened after that is a long story, and a large part of my psychic history Bowles died three days before I arrived, although Fate did land me at his wake, and I became friends with many of his, most notably the famous Moroccan novelist, Mohammed Choukri I also ended up living in North Africa for about two years, and spending a good deal of time in the desert, undergoing indeed what Bowles translates as the baptism of solitude.
This is a long winded way of saying that there is something special in this book, something that has the ability to get into you and never let you go It makes you do things, it shakes you up and reminds you of emotions and fears that you had forgotten to give names to And as the Mallea quote suggests, this book does nothing to you that you haven t already in some way done to yourself, or brings out nothing that wasn t already there, some other, wilder experience, some other collision with the real, and the you that you have forgotten or think you have lost.
For those who have watched or loved the film adaptation, I cannot speak to it as I ve never been able to bring myself to see it I am not a big fan of Bertolucci s work, although he does do some interesting things with silence Bowles comment on the film was something to the effect of, How can you make a movie when all the action takes place inside people s heads The story opens with a young married couple and an attractive male companion, on an adventurous rendezvous in Northern Africa.
Oooooh, how scintillating how very, very scintillating Starry skies, the soft curves of the sensuous desert in the backdrop Within just a few pages I had cast the movie My film version of this story was going to star Ralph Fiennes as English Patient, Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare and, well naturally, me I had already decided that, if one of the Fiennes brothers wasn t available, Colin Firth as Darcy or Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn would serve as adequate replacements Better yet, let s just add them to the plot.
But, even though this story takes place in French Africa, and there is a fantastic French word available to describe these complicated gatherings of three I have gotten myself into potential hot water with my husband all over nothing in this review Nothing.
Because ain t NOTHING scintillating happening here And, not only is nothing scintillating happening, a whole lot of sinister is Sinister and sick and stressful, oh so stressful.
And, what else Let s see a potentially incestuous, criminal mother son team Lice, bedbugs, thieves A writer who refers to all women in his story as girls, and characters who I honestly hate Let me repeat that last part Characters who I honestly hate Characters who talk like this Wife What s the unit of exchange in this different world of yours Husband The tear.
Wife It isn t fair, some people have to work very hard for a tear Others can have them just for the thinking.
Husband What system of exchange is fair You think the quantity of pleasure, the degree of suffering is constant among all men It somehow all comes out in the end You think that If it comes out even, it s only because the final sum is zero.
Oh, wah, wah, wah You poor babies You poor, spoiled babies I could not stomach the husband s relentless fear of death and penchant for whining, nor the wife s lack of color or passion for anything These characters are so damned spoiled, so quintessentially the ugly Americans, they can t even see past their own noses that they live the most enchanted and fantastical lives As a reader, it is hard to suffer with or relate to any of them, especially when they feel damned whenever their cocktails arrive without ice ahem, in the desert.
I swear to you I hated every character in this book Mon dieu I HATED them all I wanted every one of them to die slow and painful deaths out on the white sand and then have their eyes pecked clean by vultures I also did not enjoy reading this It was not a pleasurable read for me.
So, why would I give it five stars Because, seriously, the writing is FANTASTIC.
The One Book I Can Truly Say Made Me Feel as if I was HypnotizedHow fragile we are under the Sheltering sky Behind it is a vast dark universe, and we re just so small I was absolutely hypnotized by Paul Bowles The Sheltering sky, a lush and lyrical novel following a married couple and their male friend they re travelers, they say, not tourists as they wonder aimlessly through the desolation and harshness of the cities and deserts of North Africa shortly after WW II.
Within the novel is an affecting allegorical tale of 3 sisters who waited for a prince to join them for tea in the Sahara This meta tale has itself inspired numerous artworks, including the song Tea in the Sahara by The Police.
My sisters and I Have this wish before we die.
And it may sound strange As if our minds are deranged.
Please don t ask us why Beneath the Sheltering skyWe have this strange obsession You have the means in your possession.
We want our tea in the Sahara with you G Sting Sumner, Tea in the Sahara, 1983 The tale concludes Many days later another caravan was passing and a man saw something on top of the highest dune And when they went up, they found the girls there, lying the same way as when they had gone to sleep And all three of the glasses, he held up his own little tea glass, were full of sand That was how they had their tea in the Sahara I intend to read this novel again solely to take the hypnotic journey Who would ever need hallucinatory drugs with a library card key to such a novel in which an author will entrance you with words alone, from beyond the grave Seriously It s that good.
In short, The Sheltering sky is the apotheosis of hypnotic transference by its poetic language so puissant to a strange and foreign destination, of utter alienation but not without hopeI try not to exaggerate in my reviews exactly because I need a sort of truth in description for a review of novel like this when I feel a point is significant.
On the Road in North Africa, published eight years before Kerouac s classic A 30 ish American married couple and a male friend are traveling in the French colonies right after the end of World War II at a time when the US State Department advised people NOT to travel there because of rampant disease and the disintegration of social conditions and of law and order The first half of the book focuses on the husband the second half on the wife view spoiler He dies of typhoid in a hut in a God forsaken village with no doctor or hospital and she walks away into the night The authorities assume she left him to die hide spoiler
September 2018 I m re reading this now and finding it just as mesmerizing There s a certainly brooding, almost philosophical quality to the prose that perfectly matches the impersonal landscape.
Then there s the sky What lies beyond What blackness resides just on the other side The novel explores this theme relentlessly On the one hand, the Sheltering sky is the thin veneer of civilization that Westerners have used to convince themselves of the orderliness of human affairs, not to mention their own superiority On the other hand, the Sheltering sky is every self delusion humans employ to keep themselves from the horrors of an indifferent universe The book gradually strips away these veneers, these self delusions, until the raw facts of existence themselves are exposed It s not pretty, but it s quite a cathartic journey into the abyss In a way this book reminds me perhaps strangely of Moby Dick, where Melville also explores the theme of self delusion how necessary self delusion is to our basic sanity, but how horribly it can lead us astray.