- Hardcover: 940 pages
- Publisher: Library of America (Sep 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1931082197
- ISBN-13: 978-1931082198
- Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 14.7 x 3.2 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The most striking thing about Bowles' work is its pace. It moves at a mesmerizing rate. The language is fairly simple but it plods along with a suspensful tension that never lets up even after a climatic moment. It is the kind of fiction to read next to a fountain in a courtyard.
Bowles' characters are almost always out of place, or are where they shouldn't be, or where they think they should be. They become engulfed by cultures that they don't understand not through stupidity or banality but often through the natural course of clashing cultures. Reading the books can give you a feeling of getting lost, and overcome with a feeling that you don't belong, or that you're delving into worlds you aren't prepared to delve into. This is the terror that underlies nearly all of his writing. They are cautionary tales, and they have become more relevant in the past few years since Bowles' death in 1999 (not highly publicized), and the rising relevance of Islam in and to the West.
Bowles is one of the first western writers of fiction that treats Islam equally to European society. Islam is not merely a backdrop in which his characters find fault or get ground up in (i.e., you never get the sense that Bowles is blaming the cultures themselves for the destruction of his characters, typically they are responsible, but it really isn't anybody's 'fault' per se). This is multicultural literature at its best, because it allows nastiness and goodness on all sides. Bowles is not afraid to show the dark sides of Islamic and European cultures side by side, while allowing positive aspects a place as well. He is also never racist towards either side, though some critics have accussed him of this (wrongly, in my opinion).
Bowles is an eye-opener. All three of these novels will make an impact on you and make you think about things you've never thought of before. Thanks again to the Library of America for releasing this collection. Buy it and read it.
The Sheltering Sky, the first of three novels in this edition, is short, only 250 pages long. It seems to be considered his defining novel. It is about a married couple, Kit, and Port, and their sojourn into the Sahara Desert. They are dishonest with each other about many things, their shaky marriage, and the danger of the trip they have embarked on, fidelity. They cannot take charge of anything, their lives, their marriage, their trip, and even their privacy. The decisions that they make exude with bad judgement. This is exposed early on, when Porter goes off for a walk alone the city. He encounters a stranger, Smail; Port walks off with this stranger, out of the city into the desert to meet and be entertained by a young girl, who he is told is “not a [prostitute] but will want to be paid. The characters do dangerous things. You sense their doom with them. And, like them, the reader is compelled to go on. I do not want to give too many plot details as it might spoil the pleasure of reading what I think is an overlooked 20th century classic.
Let It Come Down, is about a bank clerk seeking adventure in Tangier. Like the Sheltering Sky, there is no happy ending here. You can sense the impending doom of the main character as he makes one bad decision after another. He gets involved with a local prostitute, financial intrigue, and in the end, drugs.
The Spider’s House starts with a quote from the Thousand and One Nights “To my way of thinking, there is nothing more delightful than to be a stranger. And so I mingle with human beings because they are not of my kind, and precisely in order to be a stranger among them.” In the wake of the worldwide effects of militant Islamism, this is a fascinating book to read.
The characters include two Americans. The first, Stenham, sees the French colonial rule in Morocco as destructive. He becomes attracted to Islam. The second is arrogant and contemptuous of the locals, the country, just about everything Moroccan. Each is stranger. Each sees and judges the Moroccan people, their culture, and their religion through western eyes. And so, Bowles introduces Amar, a teenage Moroccan boy, who is a direct descendent of the prophet, Mohammed. The boy is illiterate and poor, but not ignorant. The view of the world that each maintains at the beginning of the novel cannot hold. Set in a time of rebellion, there is plenty of plot to keep the characters moving along.
I highly recommend these three novels. This hard cover edition is published by the Library of America. It is the one that you will want to buy, and keep as part of your permanent library.
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