'TSS' by Paul Bowles is the story of Kit and Port Moresby, who are travelling around North Africa in the years preceding World War II, accompanied by their friend Tunner. Kit and Port are married but estranged, a couple who are as close to perfection for the other as their personalities allow, but who share a love of isolation and secrecy that means that there will always be a chasm between them. Tunner is a fly in the ointment, a sexual rival for Port, an irritant for Kit. On their travels they stay in increasingly hellish places, each more alien than the last, and encounter the nightmarish inhabitants, both European and African, of that remote landscape.
This book has been described as 'African Gothic', and this seems as good a label as any. A dark, brooding atmosphere persists throughout, although there is no horror in the traditional sense. Port and Kit are travelling through their own personal heart of darkness, weighed down by the metaphorical baggage the carry with them, and by each other. They attempt to escape this ever-decreasing circle by sexual liaisons that are both erotic and grotesque in equal measure, and by running as far from westerners and the western way of life as possible. However, their fear of the new, frightening, world they encounter, and their inability to rid themselves of the influences of their past lives lead them ever closer to their own personal hell.
'TSS' is brilliantly written, conjuring strong visual images of the world the Moresby's find themselves plunging into. The powerful writing style reminded me of Malcolm Lowry, and I recommend that fans of one try the other. Bowles' writing is less well structured, but just as successful at bringing the nightmare to life. It isn't an especially easy read, both because of Bowles' occasionally meandering prose and the grimness of the events being recounted. I was also a little bemused by the finale, which seemed to take Kit's African horror a little too far. Despite this, it was still an excellent book to have read, and one I can recommend to anyone interested in great writing.