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.”
The Sheltering Sky is part of Audible’s A-List Collection, featuring the world’s most celebrated actors narrating distinguished works of literature that each star helped select. For more great books performed by Hollywood’s finest, click here.
©1949 Paul Bowles (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
There is an undeniable power here. I can't say that I liked the characters, but they were somehow compelling. I can't say that I understand the choices the characters made, but they were somehow believable. Bowles has somehow tapped in to the mid-century malaise that followed World War II, and created a novel that is at once evocative and enigmatic. We never learn enough about Port and Kit to know why they came to Africa, or why they brought Tunner along. They are intent on following their own plans despite having no actual purpose. They are oblivious to the consequences of their choices, and seemingly oblivious to the possibility that their lives are also subject to other people's agendas. Scattered throughout are some truly stunning observations by Bowles about life. I cannot help but reflect on this novel months after hearing it; still trying to make sense of it; still admiring and confused.
As much as I am a fan of Jennifer Connelly, I have mixed feelings about her as a reader. On the plus side, she is about the right age for Port and Kit, and thereby makes it easier to access those characters. On the other hand, she comes across as rather flat, lacking the varied modulations of the truly accomplished audio book readers.
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 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.
Say something about yourself!
Jennifer Connelly's performance of this book was flawless. Her interpretation of all the characters was woven so beautifully into the prose that I believed every moment, every word she uttered. In addition, her spare performance was a perfect compliment to the desolation of the North African desert.
This book belongs on the same shelf as THE STRANGER, which also focuses on themes of colonialism, French and Algerian culture clashes, and existentialism. TIME Magazine named THE SHELTERING SKY as among the best English-language novels penned between 1923 to 2005, which puts it in the same cateogry as works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Hemingway.
For the traveler, you can also squeeze this book alongside such travel-writing greats as Tony Horwitz, Bill Bryson, and Bruce Chatwin.
I don't think I had a favorite, but in a way, I think that's a good thing, because it means that Ms. Connelly's performance blended in and enhanced the text, rather than competed against it. I love it when I get so lost in a narration that I almost become unaware I'm listening to a book.
I was impressed--and relieved--that her French and Arab accents were top-notch. Readers trying--and failing--to capture an accent can make or break a book for me.
I began and finished this book in the five days following the bombings at this year's Boston Marathon. So I was very attuned to the idea of Americans traveling through Arab countries, the arrogance of defining oneself as a "traveler" rather than a tourist, and my own love of exploring new cultures and trying to understand how this crazy world works.
The doomed Porter Moresby observes: "Do not come here. Get rid of your delusional hopes of absorbing the culture of this place, of fitting in, of comprehending the "native" mind. It will never happen. For one thing, you will never understand them; for another, they don't care to understand you."
That last line has--sadly--seered itself into my mind.
For lovers of literature, I agree with TIME that this is an important book, beautifully written with important themes.
For Americans, it is a critical (by that, I mean "important") commentary on culture clash. Bowles portrays Americans AND Arabs in a fair manner, highlighting the best and the worst in both.
I will say that this is a serious work, not for the faint of heart. In particular, the second half of the book is depressing. And also beautiful. But it reminded me a little of sitting through the film version of LES MISERABLES. The despair is pretty relentless.
Book are life enriching
I consider Jennifer Connelly narration of this book to be the highest honour one could give to the genius of writer Paul Bowles
Both of the main characters of the book were well so well portrayed each were equally believable
I would read anything Jennifer Connelly narrates she is one of the finest female narraters I have listened to
I would rather go to on a trip to the desert [than out to dinner] with either of the main characters
Jennifer Connellys narration of this book was like pouring honey over the sophisticated prose of Paul Bowles to make the passages sound as smooth as silk
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