Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"By the Water" by Paul Bowles (1946)

Paul Bowles (1910 to 1999 was a very prolific writer, translator and collector of Moroccan stories, and music composer.   Just to give a small illustration of his output, he published fourteen volumes of just his short stories.  I think he may not be as much read now as he once was and this seems our loss.  Here is what Gore Vidal said about Bowles' short stories:  "among the best ever written by an American. The floor to this ramshackle civilization that we have built cannot bear much longer our weight. It was Bowles's genius to suggest the horrors which lie beneath that floor, as fragile, in its way, as the sky that shelters us from a devouring vastness".   (There is a very detailed article about his life and career here.)  His career and life are really quite fascinating.

Bowles was born and buried in New York State but he lived for many years in Morocco.   He was the friend to the famous and infamous of the literary world.  He was married to the writer Jane Bowles (my post on her is here.)   He lived 52 years in Tangiers where he received a long list of guests.  In his personal life he was, it strongly appears, involved in same sex relationships with several Gay icons.   In the 1950s  and 1960s Tangiers was considered a place of exotic decadance and Bowles did his share to give it this reputation.    

"By the Water" is the lead story in The Stories of Paul Bowles.  It is set in Tangiers and it is everything I hoped it would be.   There are sinister gangsters, visits to dangerous native quarters (think  about the movie Casablanca to get a feel for the world of this story) and elements of magic realism and things that just flat out make no sense.  (You can read this story if you wish by having Amazon send you a sample of the book, the full story and another one are included in the sample as well as a very informative introduction.)  I am getting further and further behind in my postings so I will keep the rest of this short.  The story is told in the first person.  The narrator has somehow offended or taken advantage of a notorious underworld figure though I am not sure there are too many overworld charaters in the world of these stories!   The story is very atmospheric.  We wish we were there, sitting in a cafe,watching the world go by waiting for checks to come in, from some mysterious trust, while, smoking hash and wondering if we will do anything or anyone today.   When the narrator does meet the gangster he is barely human, with no arms or legs just flipper like appendages.   I really enjoyed this story and have tried to convey the feel of it without giving away much of the plot.  I well might read through this collection.   I do not think we will see its like again anytime soon.

Please share your experiences with Paul Bowles with us.

Mel u

1 comment:

me. said...

For a long time The Sheltering Sky was one of my favourite novels, and I've had a copy of Midnight Mass put away to read for a while so thanks for the prompt for me to read Bowles again.