The Sheltering Sky (P.S.)

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles What exactly is the author trying to say with this book? Is he selling us existentialism through this novel? Perhaps. What is he saying about the central couple’s relationship, both with each and with their friends? This too is unclear. The two main protagonists are trying to reach out to each other, but do they succeed? This circles back to the author’s philosophical message. Perhaps it is enough that the book draws our attention to these questions. The answers are not clear.

What does the author want to say with the title? This too is unclear, but worth discussion.

The first half of the book is very different from the second half. I do not feel the two hold together. The first half focuses on philosophy. The first half has many parallels with Camus’ “The Stranger”. Both are set in Africa, one in Morocco and the other in Algeria. There is a streetcar in both. In neither is it the individuals that control their lives, but rather the other way around. Life just happens and you must submit. The second half has a completely different style of writing. You switch from philosophical analysis to a plot oriented, adventure story reminiscent of “One Thousand and One Nights”. Depending on your preferences you will like one or the other…..but not both.

The audiobook narration by Jennifer Connelly is very well done. She distinguishes between English and American characters. They do make you smile…. Maybe this is because I now live in Europe? French, English and Arabic languages are used; this is done adroitly. The languages are not translated. Although I don’t see this as a problem, I was happy that I easily understood the French. The slang chosen felt genuine; that is exactly how people would express themselves.

A central theme of the book is the difference between travelers and tourists. In fact this is why I chose the book, having myself lived in different countries. The main protagonists see themselves as travelers, but I felt they acted often as tourists. Rather than being curious about a new environment and culture they were d-i-s-g-u-s-t-e-d and apathetic. They couldn’t possibly have thought that the difficulties that arose and the filth they saw were anything but to be expected! They seemed to be looking for a clean problem free journey. This seems terribly illogical. Part of this IS explained by the difference between the man and the women, and it is interesting to consider which one of them really was the “traveler”.

There are loose ends in this novel, characters thrown in that one cannot fully understand. What happens to them is left completely unresolved. Nope this was not well done.

There is quite a bit that can be discussed in this book, but I can only give it two stars. It was not terrible, but just OK.