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Book Review - The Sheltering Sky

SEATTLE, Washington - Paul Bowles was an artsy Westerner hanging out in North Africa before it was cool to do so. He started visiting the area in 1931 and moved to French Algeria in 1947. At the time, he was a composer by trade; The Sheltering Sky was his first novel.

The book chronicles the post-WW2 journey of three wealthy slacker Americans (hubby and wife Port and Kit, and friend Tunner) taking an extended get-away in French North Africa. Port seems to have the crazy idea that this long trip with a guy friend tagging along will do wonders for his troubled marriage to Kit. The trio starts out in a heavily Frenchified port city and slowly works its way into the desert, partaking of the fleabag hotels, strange cuisine, and exotic scenery.

Disaffected post-war young adults wandering aimlessly, hanging out in caf├ęs, pondering their lives, fooling around a bit - sounds like The Sun Also Rises. I would say it is similar, except the writing has a few more adjectives, it's after a different war, and none of the main characters got their crank shot off in the war.

The book may have a few more adjectives, but it's still done in a relatively spartan style. Spartan terrain, spartan writing, etc. Works well enough for me.

William S. Burroughs's reading of The Sheltering Sky was one of the influences that led him to move to Tangier in the early 1950s, so I was expecting some drug use and gay sex with teenagers. Not much of either - the only "gay" sex involved a guy getting down with a woman who was dressed like a man - is that gay?

I didn't find out until after finishing the book that Bernardo Bertolucci made The Sheltering Sky into a movie in 1990. I got my hopes up - some good desert cinematography, a sort of heterosexual Lawrence of Arabia - but Wikipedia notes that Bertolucci "turns the bleak, sinister tone of the latter part of the book into a desert love story". Shit! I'll still rent it and watch it, but I would root for a bleaker movie. If there is not some hot loving in the movie - some Last Tango in Paris, go-get-the-butter eroticism - I will have to declare it a failure.


Christine said...

Speaking of the movie version, I also usually like movies with decent desert cinematography. But I agree, IMDB really did not entice me to want to see this one. The book frankly sounds like it *could* have been a great movie.
I think they should have used olive oil in "Last Tango in Paris". Butter is generally too sticky, but the overall erotic theme was pretty damn good! My reasoning is I recently went to this Korean spa that this nature freak recommended to me and got this deep exfoliation treatment. The finale was my Korean chick rubbed my whole body including my bare ass and breasts with olive oil and squirted me with warm milk saying "you like?". She exfoliated my body so hard that I woke up the next day bruised all over! While my experience was not pleasant for the most part and the ladies got a good laugh over the story, I had no idea that olive oil was so nice all over your skin! You know weird stuff happens to me...