Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky
Title: The Sheltering Sky
Author: Paul Bowles
Publication Date: 1949
Pages: 342
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 9/11/16

Summary: Americans Port, Kit, and Tunner are exploring Saharan Africa in the years after WWII. Port and Kit are trying to work out their marital issues while the group also struggles with the inherent dangers of the region.

What I Thought: I knew basically nothing about this novel going in. As I've mentioned before, that's turning out to be the best way to approach these Modern Library list books. I have no expectations.

I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something more akin to other books on the list. The Sheltering Sky is both similar and very different from the 100 Best patterns I've noticed. It follows a married couple and their friend as they explore Saharan Africa in the years directly following WWII. As you can imagine, a love triangle ensues, though I was grateful it did not consume the book. You would think this setup would make it too similar to some of the British novels on the list. Yet, Bowles writes with a very different tone and allows his characters experiences, desires, and emotions that would be either far too déclassé or far too progressive for other authors. 

I started out really detesting all three of the main characters, but each grew on me in their own way. Bowles' exploration of their downfalls somehow endeared them to me over time, rather than exacerbating their irritating traits. He treats his characters with such reverence, all while completely destroying their lives. I also really liked that the main character, to great surprise, ends up being Kit. Having a female protagonist is another really nice shift from many other books on the list. 

I think what I enjoyed most was Bowles' writing style. He's very literary without being too highbrow. To me, it felt like a nice mix of some of the older British literature with American accessibility added in. The quote below is a great example of his style, plus it really resonated with me and my own wanderlust. 

I feel a bit at a loss as to how else to describe this book for you. I enjoyed it, but I don't feel equipped to articulate why. I think I'll read it again. There are many layers and, while I uncovered some of them, I know there are more if I dig deeper. 

Quote I Loved: "He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. ...Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another ...another important difference between the tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yeah, I think I will at some point
If You Liked This, Try: A Passage to India / The Moviegoer / The Magus

A Reduced Review: While I feel surprisingly unequipped to explain why, I enjoyed this book, its characters, and style, and its depth. 

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