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The Sheltering Sky

Narrated by: Jennifer Connelly
Length: 10 hrs and 30 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (759 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

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A Teacup Full of Sand on the Highest Dune

Because this is one of the novels released in Audible's *A-List Collection*, I'll begin with the perfect match-up of this novel to narrator, Jennifer Connelly. Flaw Less. With an hypnotic voice, Miss Connelly brings the voice of author Bowles alive. If you are familiar with the ex-pat author and composer, you might even hear his attitude in Connelly's reading. I've listened only to 3 books from the A-List Collection, but all have been solid pairings of novel and narrator. Connelly was sublime.

I was simply - seduced, from the introductory beat of exotic tribal drums. As the novel progressed, I did not like these nihilistic snoots, Kit and Port, so self-absorbed that they don't wait for night to fall--rather they wait for the *night to come to them*, but I was mesmerized by them. Tired of Paris, Rome, wishing to escape anywhere touched by the war (WWII), Kit and Port stuff their trunks and cross the Atlantic to the N. African desert. They sit on the terrace of a desert cafe where the "air has no movement", surrounded by Arabs in fezes in shades of red, they in their European clothes, "in the manner of people who had all the time in the world for everything." Kit finds a piece of rabbit fur in her rabbit soup after swallowing a spoonful, after devouring a bowl of noodles Port notices the floating bodies of weevils, they suffer illness (and worse)...I had no sympathy for these inhumane people, but I was fascinated -- to quote Bowles quoting Kafka..."From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back; that is the point that must be reached."

Kit and Port Moresby (MOREsby surely couldn't be coincidental), are not the antagonists of this story -- it is the Sahara, and the solitude that ignores station, caste, or status . As Bowles goes on to drive these two further into the desert the story becomes bizarre, to say the least, but these mysteries should remain until you discover them for yourself. A bit similar to Hemmingway's band of ex-pats in Paris from The Sun Also Rises; and there is no escaping the obvious...this is Existentialism, very reminiscent of Camus' The Stranger. A particular passage haunts me: an Arab tells the tale of 3 sisters and their quest to have tea in the Sahara on the highest dune (Sting wrote a song about the tale "Tea in the Sahara"), it was strangely exquisite and visual.

The aberrations, the atrocities, the perversions, are handled with a genius touch. No violence is described, even in the most brutal situations, but you know what went down and can feel the horror of the situations because of Bowles ability to communicate without spelling out the details. It was in these moments that I felt the most fascinated and connected to this haunting book. (It struck me as I began listening the second time around that Bowles has created a novel that has been intelligently streamlined, to where everything, every detail and every word, is a necessary part of a perfect whole.) I disliked it until I loved it. Sheltering Sky will not have wide appeal, I wouldn't suggest it to my book club without expecting to lose my turn at choosing, but for me personally, I'm obsessed. Recommending this book reminds me of recommending a Rothko exhibit...you either love it and appreciate the talent that can capture the subtleties of blue fading into black...or you hate it and think you're kid could do that. This novel goes on my favorite list - the short one, and I'm already listening again.

88 of 95 people found this review helpful

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Sentenced by a composer's sentences

Paul 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 itself 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.

Connelly captures the mood, the magic, the sadness and the tension of the book perfectly.

Most days, I don't feel a real need to read/listen to a book twice. But I might need to make an exception for 'The Sheltering Sky'.

33 of 37 people found this review helpful

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Great existentialist novel brilliantly read

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I do strongly recommend this novel to everyone. This is one of the best novels that I have ever read and Jennifer Connelly's reading is the single best reading of a novel that I have ever heard.

This is the story of an American couple, Port and Kit, travelling through Morocco in the late 1940's. Although they deeply love one another, they have grown apart and traveling from one small town in the Sahara to another only brings their despair and alienation into sharper relief. The dialog has the ring of authenticity, as do the characters' inner monologues. Bowles was a great storyteller and his descriptions of the desert are mesmerizing.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Sheltering Sky?

One of the most powerful scenes in the novel occurs in a small hospital where Port lies, suffering from typhus. Despite his own deep sense of alienation from the world, one thing is clear to him: his love for Kit. But by then, he's too weak from the disease to get the words out and tell her everything that's on his mind.

What does Jennifer Connelly bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I read this novel years ago and I loved it, but Jennifer Connelly's reading of it has led me to appreciate it even more. I almost hesitate to call it a 'reading'. It's better described as a performance and a great one at that. Her decison to give each character in the novel his or her own distinctive voice was a bold one and it paid off. Her readings of the narrative passages are just as hypnotic and brilliant as Bowles' writing itself.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Kit's mental breakdown in the desert after she loses Port is especially moving. There's no one to help her.

Any additional comments?

Listening to this reading has inspired me to read Bowles' other novels and to re-watch some of Ms. Connelly's excellent acting performances in films.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Named "one of the best" by TIME

What did you love best about The Sheltering Sky?

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.

What other book might you compare The Sheltering Sky to and why?

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.

Which character – as performed by Jennifer Connelly – was your favorite?

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.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful reading by Connelly

What did you love best about The Sheltering Sky?

Connelly's mastery of all the accents.

What did you like best about this story?

The period it took place in

What about Jennifer Connelly’s performance did you like?

Her voice was clear, accents superb and her delivery was spot on

If you could take any character from The Sheltering Sky out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Kit because I related to that one the best

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Worth the Waiting

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.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Expats in the Sahara

This is an intriguing story of two Americans who go to north Africa for adventure and lose everything. It is well narrated and each time I resumed listening, I was retransported into the strangeness of a foreign culture.

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Compelling Story & Magnificent Performance

Jennifer Connelly's performance is perfect. Port, Kit and Tunner can be quite unsympathetic characters at times but the story is a compelling portrait of the disconnection a generation felt after World War II.

7 of 11 people found this review helpful

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A Masterpeice

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Boy, Did This One Take an Odd Turn

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.

8 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • J
  • 07-06-12

excellent listening

A very moving story. It's hard to break listening.
Excellent performance by Jennifer Connely.
Her voice is perfect. Please, more of her.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • GerryFitt
  • 04-15-17

Sublime

Simply sensational. Jennifer Connelly gives an absolutely flawless reading of probably one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Without doubt Paul Bowles should have won the Pullitzer for it...can anything be done posthumously? *****

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anne
  • 04-25-16

great job by narrator

this was a very different novel. the narrator did a fine job. I loved it.

how scary is that Sahara? Quite the page turner.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-30-14

meandering tale of self-indulgence which goes sour

If you could sum up The Sheltering Sky in three words, what would they be?

Journey to real wilderness reveals the wilderness within

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Probably shortened the scenes towards the end with Arabian Nights like characters

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Realisation that death reveals lack of substance to one's life

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • William Farrar
  • 07-18-17

flat narration

Yet to discover what the story is about - the narration was so flat that my mind kept drifting off. Such readings need to be voiced by a trained stage actor in order to enact the drama and compel one to listen.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-12-19

Insurmountable performance

Superb, brilliant, astonishing. Jennifer Connelly delivers a tour de force audio performance, compounding her career.

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  • jdk
  • 06-26-17

Modern American Classic

Bowls language is, at times, exquisite, as he follows two of his compatriots into the Sahara.

My only criticism would be the lightness of the ending. Its power ever so slightly fades.