The Sheltering Sky is a landmark of 20th-century literature, a novel of existential despair that examines the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness of the desert. Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream) gives masterful voice to this American classic.
This fascinating story follows three American travelers, a married couple and their friend, as they find themselves adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II. Along the walkabout, their ignorance of the dangers that surround them peels back the veneer of their lives. The author’s life as an expatriate in the North African nation of Morocco informed his rendering of the desert, which itself is a cruel, unforgiving character in the novel.
“Paul Bowles’ writing is so extraordinary, so special,” Ms. Connelly said. “The landscapes are magical, the characters are questioning so much – it’s haunting in a very beautiful way.”
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©1949 Paul Bowles (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
I have been awaiting some time a copy of Bertolucci's movie to arrive. In the meantime I listened over and over to the Police's "Tea in the Sahara". When the DVD arrived it was from the wrong zone. So it's taken some time to complete the circle of information that I wanted before I commenced on the review. In a way, the waiting was a fair reflection of the tedium that the book so casually describes. "Casual" is an appropriate word too, because Port and Kit (the protagonists) remind me of Fitzgerald's "careless people"; their lives are so self-absorbed, it is really quite hard to like either of them. Tunner (the third leg of the stool) is not any more redeeming.
It took me a while to get into the novel. It wasn't until I started approaching it like a long, un-parsed poem, just listening to the words without really trying to make them mean too much that I started to get a feel for the solitude and lack of solicitude that Bowels brings to the whole landscape. On reflection now, I think it is an inspired piece of writing, but for a third of the novel, I struggled with it and with the narration.
When I got it, then I appreciated the narration that Jennifer Connelly brought to the words. The flat, toneless delivery contrasted so starkly with the eloquence of the language; "the meaningless hegemony of the voluntary" and the title driving, "Reach out. Pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky and take repose". Just writing the words brings forth the images that are so beautifully captured by Bertolucci's lens and Ryuichi Sakamoto's haunting theme.
I must say I loved this book more after I finished it than when reading it. That suggests to me that it is not for everyone. However, if you are the one for it, get yourself a copy of the film after you have finished listening. A young Malkovich and a very young Debra Winger. You won't regret the wait.
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.
Frist off my name is Cynthia. My husband is Mike, but he has never been a member.
I would listen to this story again because each character
was so complex and they came together and a very interesting time
and place. I did listen to part of it again just to be sure that I understood the ending.
The characters inner dialogue verses how they related to one and other.
Her voice was perfect for the female character. I like the way she reacted to her husband
in the story.
The female character, she was the most interesting.
I liked the ending it was quite a surprise.
Well, I'm not quite sure what to say about this one. So let me start by saying that Jennifer Connolly was an excellent reader. For most of the book, she maintained a flat, blasé tone that was just right for the story of Port and Kit Moresby, two bored, falling out of love with each other Ameriocans traveling in post-war North Africa.
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. Port and Kit (joined at times by another American, Tunner, an an odious British mother and son, the Lyles) travel through various cities and landscapes, 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, despite 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 strongly 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 (or listen to) anything else by Bowles, it will be because of his style--not his nearly-nonexistent agility with plot or character.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
This is a remarkably well written first novel from 1949. The story is a rather simple drama set in the Saraha desert. The characters seem to represent the different effects WWII had on humanity.
Although the writing was excellent, my overall experience of this book was marginal. I think the greatness of this book was being powerfully of, and for, its time. For those who had recently experienced WWII, this book may have been superb, for me it provided and interesting historical perspective.
At the time Tennessee Williams said this novel bears the spiritual imprint of recent history in the western world (post WWII). Here the imprint is not visible upon the surface of the novel. It exists far more significantly in a certain philosophical aura that envelopes it.
I did not love the narration but it was not particularly bad.
I love books. Love to read them, listen to them, and build my stash of them.
This is such a strange story with the main female character one of dubious sensibilities. It was narrated very well, though, so I stuck with it just to see what would happen.
Why is this narrator so popular? Everything she says sounds soft, monotone and like she is trying to be deep. I actually think I could enjoy this book but not with this narrator. Even tense moments are dulled over with this terrible monotone 'reading' style. This style of reading is my BIGGEST pet peeve, returning this one.
Unafraid to read from any genre.
When I was listening to Paul Bowles' exquisite The Sheltering Sky, I jotted down a phrase here in my notes to include in my review: the ambiguities of human behavior.
When we create art, we (meaning we members of the human species) are almost always guilty of placing the art in a digestible context. Perhaps guilt is the wrong word to use, because it indicates a transgression - perhaps this context is wholly necessary in that art must be able to be internalized in some fashion or it fails in communicating anything at all. With writing, this translates into the creation of a pleasing and familiar story arc with discernible beginning, middle, and end. Many readers find great comfort in this familiarity - in fact, they demand it in their novels. Book series are an indication of this phenomenon. In book series, we are allowed to reenter a familiar set of literary preconditions and live among characters we've grown accustomed to. These same readers often despise books that upset the standard story arc. Books are not a place to be challenged, set off balance, or placed adrift in a morally ambiguous universe. Novels are enjoyed by these readers because they clarify moral situations, not muddy them! Readers of this sort will undoubtedly hate The Sheltering Sky and its ambiguities of human behavior. For the rest of the reading world, this novel offers a profound and moving experience. My son asked me this evening which book that I had read this past month had I enjoyed best? I told him this one, and in fact, I have plans to carry on with Bowles and listen to Let It Come Down beginning tonight.
Books like The Sheltering Sky - books so keenly observant of human frailty - are truly rare. And in being unafraid to show ourselves our frailties, it offers us rare and beautiful truths. It surprises me in some respect that this novel is not more highly valued, though I do see it ranked among best books of the 20th century. Bowles reveals himself a master observer. The character he creates with Kit Moresby is one of the most outstanding and complex I've read in the past couple of years.
Jennifer Connelly does an excellent job - just short of outstanding. While her ability with accents is wonderful, it's in the general narration where she can sometimes let down the prose. It just felt a bit uninspired at times.
Jennifer Connolly does an amazing job bringing this story to life. It's a bit odd, though, the story; I never did find out why Kit and Port's marriage was so odd, separate, but all in all a fine boom that takes you to many places and through a period of time.
Not ever being published
If I want to be this depressed in the future, I'll gamble away my savings.
All three self-centered characters muddle about endlessly; so boring I almost dropped off to sleep while on my daily walk.
Not that I could see.
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