Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: "The Spider's House by Paul Bowles

My first introduction to writer Paul Bowles came from his fantastic short stories and not from his more famous novel, The Sheltering Sky. I found them entrancing to say the least, mixing the hellish landscape of Bowles’ obsession, Tangiers, with a dark sense of foreboding doom. They end brutally, with the main character meeting a fate that is worse than death, and have more in common with the stories of Shirley Jackson or Edgar Allen Poe than some of his Beat contemporaries. When I pick out a book to read by an author whose legend seems a little bit bigger than his actual writing, I tend to pick out a book that is less heralded than the one that he is most famous for, so instead of picking out The Sheltering Sky, which I do own, I went with the little more obscure selection with his third novel, The Spider’s house, which I feel was a mistake. The themes that made his short stories good lose their novelty when Bowles stretches the narrative from a few pages to 400, and this story, which begins intimate, minus the prologue, quickly derails at the halfway point as a far less interesting main character becomes central to the book. I liked the beginning, where a young boy named Amar, floating through life, finds himself within the clutches of political forces beyond his control, the ‘spider’s house” of the title. In one of the books most memorable and disturbing scenes, very reminiscent of his short stories, Amar brutally beats one of his friends unconscious, and we never figure out if he survived. But once an American ex-pat writer, a stand in for Bowles himself, shows up, the book lost me with its political complexity and uninteresting characters, despite Bowles amazing skills on a sentence by sentence basis. I’m still curious about his writing, and while this book didn’t impress, it makes me a bit eager to read some more of his short stories. 
Rating: 3/5

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