Monday, 18 June 2012

Book Review! The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles.

To be honest the only reason I “read” (really I listened to) this book was because Jennifer Connelly (Academy Award winner for A Beautiful Mind) was doing the narration, but I am certainly glad I did. The writing was extraordinary. 
The book follows the lives of Americans Port and his wife Kit as they travel across Saharan Africa following World War II along with their friend Tunner. The real draw to this book is the writing itself. The characters are admittedly not very sympathetic, but Paul Bowles writing ensconces you so deeply into the experience that you feel as if you are traveling around Africa with them, which can be understandably uncomfortable at times but it also feels like a great adventure even when nothing much is happening plot wise. I felt like I was headed deeper and deeper into the desert with them, so much so I found myself wishing I had a burnous to wear. 
Not only does the book effectively convey the feeling of place it also delves into the nature of desolation, and solitude. All of these characters find themselves hurtling away from the world and civilization they know and into a vast nothingness and at first must confront each other as there is less and less for them to interact with until finally they face only themselves and their own nature.

My favorite quote from the book: “Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” 
There is a very curious turn of events at the end of the book that personally found to be quite strange, and unfortunately there isn’t much to be said about it that wouldn’t be giving away serious spoilers, but if anyone who’s read the book wants to have a mini-bookclub like discussion about it or the book as a whole, let me know. (Also note that for those who have seen the 1990 movie version and not read the book, they end differently) 
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, and letting the strength of description carry you off on an experience of a place you’d never otherwise get to go (unless you build a time machine in which case, take me with you!) For someone just looking for plot and happy endings, don’t bother. 
I also highly recommend getting the audio version. It really adds to the experience. Jennifer Connelly does a great job with the various accents and languages (there is French and Arabic in addition to the English most of the book is in and all of it is either translated by one of the characters or in a context that you don’t need to know anything other than English to listen, but it’s great to adding to the mood to actually hear the various dialects and accents. In reading I tend to skip over such parts, but in listening it really enhances the experience.) The only complaint I had about Jennifer Connelly’s performance was at first the parts she read that were the narration and not a character speaking felt a little dry, but then I realized with so many accents and languages that a relatively unadorned speech pattern was needed to distinguish narration from dialogue. Her performance certainly enhances the overall experience of the book. 

The audio version can be found on Audible:

Funny clip from Anderson where Jennifer discusses working on the audiobook.



  1. That is Jennifer Connelly-atastic. Yes that's a new term for the blog!

  2. haha, but at least I sort of tied it into writing by including a book in there too

  3. Hahah, oh gosh, you and your Jennifer Connelly. But the cover, albeit pretty old-fashioned, looks awesome.