The Reading Room

Tangier 1975

Collected Stories by Paul Bowles…

There are few storytellers who can evoke a sense of ‘being there’ in the way Paul Bowles (1910-1999) could. An author whose own life was every bit as colourful as the stories he wrote took the reader on many a remarkable journey in which his considerable knowledge and personal experience of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and Central America gave his books the gravitas many lack.

Famed for his extraordinary novel The Sheltering Sky he wrote three other novels, a book of poetry, many travel essays and one hundred short stories. In this collection of his short stories, the publisher Penguin Modern Classics gives those unfamiliar with Bowles or his novels a wonderful taster of what to expect from the great man. The stories are varied but the landscapes will be familiar to Bowles fans as is the sense of environment and life for those from the top to the bottom of society.

Bowles’ great skill of course, was in his ability to show how Westerners and particularly those from privileged backgrounds in Europe and America fared when they plunged themselves into the unknown of North Africa and the Middle East. Like Anthony Burgess, he captured the colonial gulf between the tourist and the native in all of its most basic and often disturbing reality. There is often a sense of tension in Bowles’ writing, a feeling of impending doom even if it doesn’t happen, a creeping nightmare in waiting down the dark alleyways of a remote Moroccan town or in the vastness of a desert.

In The Sheltering Sky, Bowles built this up page by haunting page across an entire novel but in this collection he shows how in a few pages of a single short story a great author can achieve a similar sense of foreboding; a woman abandoned by her husband on their honeymoon in a South American jungle, a Greene-like tale of a missionary sent to an outpost so remote even his God cannot reach him. In Tangier 1975 the story reads like the narrator is spewing out the words in a hasty bid to tell her tale, commas are few, the script hurried, gossipy and telling. It’s typical Bowles, the relationship between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor.

Enter Paul Bowles world of power cuts, lamb stews, brothels, bars, dissatisfaction and contempt, his Collected Stories is an open door and once you enter it’s hard to get out.

Collected Stories by Paul Bowles

Republished by Penguin Classics 2009

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