97. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Year Published: 1949
Pages: 313
First sentence: He awoke, opened his eyes.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

So here we have a book about a bunch of horrible selfish Americans travelling in northern Africa. It's almost humourless and full of things that happened over my head. Oh, and since the author, Paul Bowles, spoiled me in his preface, I'm going to pay it forward: the male protagonist dies in the middle of the book. Takes him long enough, is all I can say about it.

To elaborate, Port, Kit, and Tunner, are, well, travelling in northern Africa. Port and Kit are a married couple, and he (Port) takes pains to identify as a "traveller" rather than as a tourist. Tunner is along for the ride, chiefly because Port and Kit don't seem to want to be alone together. They have kind of a weird arrangement. They hate having Tunner around, so they try to lose him. Horrible shenanigans going on all around, really.

Then Port dies.

Hilarity ensues.

Of course it doesn't, though. There are a few bits of joy in this book, like oases in the Sahara (see what I did there?), and then there're some very sharp and compelling images, but mostly there are just a bunch of characters that are extremely hard to like. I shouldn't be so harsh, though, since I actually did find the novel pretty engrossing.

The back cover blurb made much of how Bowles is examining the destructive power of cultural insensitivity or something, but I didn't really see a great deal of that, which I thought was a shame. Instead there was the symbol of the desert, and the arid wastelands between the characters, since none of them can really connect with any of the others.

I don't really know what else to say. The book isn't boring, although I found it losing steam in the last third or so, which is quite different from what comes before. I didn't dislike the book, so Bowles clearly knew what he was doing putting a bunch of horrible people in it. But I didn't enjoy it, either.

And it occurred to him that a walk through the countryside was a sort of epitome of the passage through life itself. One never took the time to savor the details; one said: another day, but always with the hidden knowledge that each day was unique and final, that there never would be a return, another time.

"Everyone makes the life he wants. Right?"

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