An uneven marriage of fable and character study The Spider s House is Bowles s third book, though it reads a bit like a first book, what with a central character who stands in for the author, a lot of discussion of personal philosophy, a flabby structure, and all of this overwhelmed by a story that is too rooted in symbolism.Which is not to say that it s a bad book, necessarily better than his fourth and final novel, though no where near as good as his first two or many of his short stories There are some acute insights into the two main characters, John Stenham and Amar, and some well crafted passages But these cannot save the book entirely, either.The story starts out as numerous commenters have noted almost like a Graham Greene story, a high end novel of espionage, with Stenham being escorted to his Moroccan hotel amid growing political restiveness And there are fragments of such a novel, the ex patriates and travelers holed up in the hotel that is increasingly isolated as political rebellion becomes increasingly violent and partisans fight with each other.There is an escape from the city, Fez, and sneaking back in there are threatening thugs and shadowy figures of unknown sympathies There is a love affair made exciting by the threats to life.But this is a Bowles story, and his primary interest as he says in the preface, and in the opening parts of the book, is not primarily politics The problem is, it s not quite clear what his primary interest is, ad the book seems to serve too many purposes.After the opening prologue, focused on Stenham, the novel turns to a long section on Amar, at least a quarter of the book, maybe He s a good character, Amar, and this section is a bravura performance in some ways, as Bowles seeks to represent the viewpoint of a young, devoutly Moslem adolescent who has lived his life under the subjugation of the French and is starting to chafe against his lack of control, and embrace a desire for vengeance in many forms.The section, though, has no real organizing backbone, and the paragraphs are particularly long by Bowles s standard A lot of his stories are without or with little dialogue, but this one focuses so intently on Amar s mind that Bowles seems to get a bit lost Long stretches seem to be showing off, or unnecessary.Which feeds back into the story of Stenham, who is very much stand in for Bowles himself, an American writer in love with North African culture, hoping it won t change and realizing it is that the ousting of the French will not bring back the Medieval culture he romantically valorizes, but set it on a different path to modernity Here, Bowles is criticizing his own ingenuousness.This criticism is in another fairly long section, as we meet with Stenham, some British ex patriates, and a French American woman making lives for themselves in Morocco, living off wealth and as disconnected from the surrounding culture as they want to be Only Stenham and the woman, Lee, really like the aesthetic features of North Africa, and only Stenham has bothered to learn the language and something of the culture The section focuses on the picayune contests among the group, but without the pay off that comes in his earlier novels, The Sheltering Sky and Let It Come Down.Even as the story catches up with the prologue, the The two Brits mostly are there only as scenery They disappear soon enough, having performed minor plot functions, and without consequence The weak attraction between Stenham and Lee is mostly a set up for later in the book, without ay real interest here As I say, there are some insights in Stenham, especially as Bowles seems to deconstruct his own beliefs, but for the most part the characters remain flat There s none of the typical Bowlesian oddness, but neither is there much work investing them with even usual characteristics To the extent that they work at all in the story, it is mostly t set at odds two different philosophical viewpoints, one a kind of bleeding heart liberalism and one a rootless Romanticism at war with itself.Soon enough the stories merge, and Lee, Stenham, and Amar join together and leave Fez as the violence becomes unbearable, and the fruitlessness of vengeance and violence makes itself known, at least in vague forms, to Amar Here, the mountains away from Fez, they get a chance to touch something like Stenham s Romantic notion of Moroccan civilization, but they are also confirmed outsiders, and Stenham knows it will all change soon enough.Amar makes his way back to the city, which sets the stage for the final section He is confronted by the nationalists who want to modernize the nation and secularize Islam both to his horror He sees the worthlessness of vengeance, and merely wants to reunite, again, with his family harsh, in its way, but a model of Islam, too, unreconstructed by modernism Here is where the book s title and epigraph come through the nationalists are building a house on something other than the Koran, and it, like the spider s house, will be fragile that is taken from a passage of the Koran The spider s house also a web this seems to be Bowles s addition that has netted victims, and trapped the country.The ending of the novel proceeds not from the characters, but works only on a symbolic level Bowles has written some fables, most notably The Hyena, but even in it, the animal characters were alive than Stenham and Lee are here Lee and Stenham meet up with Amar, and he wants them to take him to his family, which has decamped outside of Fez Throughout the story, and prominently in the preface, Bowles used automobiles to symbolize the governing of statehood, and so there is a sense in which Amar wants Stenham, who alone understands and valorizes the true, Moslem, medieval North Africa that his family alone lives Amar wants Stenham to drive him home to make the un modern Morocco.But Stenham has hooked up with Lee who has seen him in a new light, come to understand his hesitations as he has overcome those same stutterings he has rejected that Romantic notion He has agreed to live with a modern, Westenr woman, a kind loathed by Amar as brazen and against Islam Stenham has left, and so cannot meet Amar where he needs to be met And so he leaves Amar, on the side of the road which makes no sense for Stenham as a character, and even less so for Lee to agree to it, but is done in the service of the symbol, the fable.It s an awkward ending to an awkward book. It has been about two years since i read this book, so i won t go into too much plot detail, but i will instead share some of my impressions of the book.This book was written circa 1956 58 by Paul Bowles, an American author who spent most of his adult life living in Morocco The book, unsurprisingly, takes place in Morocco on the eve of the revolution in which the Moroccans won their independence from France The story follows a young Moroccan and an American author simultaneously, and depicts what happens when their paths cross.Bowles writes with a rather straight forward, almost journalistic style, painting a decidedly unsympathetic picture of his characters The book is ultimately about the differing values of the Moroccan people and their desire for sovereignty, and those of the westerners depicted in the story who wish to see the charms of colonial Morocco remain intact, an outcome not likely to occur under self rule The author s third person voice and unemotional delivery effectively express the conflict between these cultures and allow the reader ample room to establish an informed opinion, even with little or no other knowledge of Moroccan history.The story doesn t have outer worldly plot twists, like Vonnegut, certainly isn t at all romantic like Fitzgerald, and doesn t ask you to put on a funny accent when reading it like Trainspotting Neither is it a particularly quick read, but it is an engaging, thoughtful book that will at once get you intimately acquainted with an exotic and beautiful locale while gently and subtly encouraging you to consider an ethical and socio political stance you likely haven t considered before,and all without seeming too sententious On this last point, Bowles earns my respect for executing this literary balancing act about as perfectly as can be done. I ve been trying to figure out how to review this book Bowles is one of the most challenging novelists I ve read I read him, and I respond to the ideas and concepts emotionally and with a visceral understanding and empathy, than intellectually The plots, characters, dialogue leave me flummoxed but no less entranced I now love the two novels I ve read, The Sheltering Sky and this one, although I m convinced that I truly comprehend only about 10 or 15 percent of each one Both take place in North Africa The Sheltering Sky s setting is a little elusive in keeping with its greater philosophical and surreal bent I think Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia or maybe all three, iirc this one is Morocco just after the French overthrow of the Sultan and the Moslem I ll go with Bowles spelling here response led by the nascent Istaqlal nationalist party.Bowles was a U.S expat writer who lived most of his life in Morocco Both TSS and this novel and, from the looks of it, his other writings too provide a vivid, tactile feel for the area As another of his book s descriptions says, they bring us closer to a world we frequently hear about, but often find difficult to understand Without, that is, actually helping us understand which is a big part of their charm, for me at least Bowles is, as I said, challenging, and by that I mean he forces you to confront your own ignorance and preconceptions about these places and cultures that are, essentially, foreign, at least or especially to North Americans.The novels, and this one in particular, throw a sharp light on the otherness of the place and people it describes otherness, that is, from the POV of a Western reader not only the physical landscape which figures prominently, but here in The Spider s House, the cultural, religious and political ones That sense of disconnection, that lack of understanding, play directly into its themes this novel is largely about the yawning gulf between the Judao Christian and Moslem worldviews.Incidentally and this is key the title refers to a passage from The KoranThe likeness of those who choose other patrons than Allah is as the likeness of the spider when she taketh unto herself a house, and lo The frailest of all houses is the spider s house, if they but knewThe Spider s House was published in 1954, but it reads today with as much contemporary relevance as though it was published this year Indeed, it seems prescient The events, although specific and localized in the novel, seem to represent any of the endless, repeated, ever to be repeated conflicts that consume our headlines today The ancient origins and shape of the forces at play the tenor and evolution of the escalating conflict the context in which these forces took root, grew and flowered into violence, terror and war, are laid out here.The book s POV, i.e., the central character, Stenham s a U.S expat writer living and travelling in Morocco, natch is jaded and unflinchingly accusatory of the colonial forces that were and are and will continue, in his mind, to corrupt by transforming, modernizing, Westernizing the essential beauty and purity of the Moslem faith and culture He sees this, knows it is inevitable, and rages against it and his impotence in the face of it in true Bowles fashion, this kind of cultural political impotence is rendered as a cynical, nihilistic detonation of the soul very personal, very existentialHe also condemns the post colonial, liberal democratic response through the character of Mme Veyron, aka Polly aka Lee Burroughs she has a lot of names is that intentional , a Paris based American born divorc e with all the stereotypical implications of that word this is, after all, 1954 seeking to engage with the culture through adventurous travel, but embodying all the worst of Western naivete, ignorance and cultural insensitivity.At the same time and this is a neat trick Stenham both idealizes and disparages the Moslem culture and its response to the events an idealization that grows increasingly shaky and eventually evaporates as a result of his encounter with Amar, an illiterate and impoverished Moslem teenager, and a devoted adherent to Islam.The closer that Stenham gets into direct contact with Morocco and the factions as they break into all out war with each other, the less clear his own ideological position And ain t that always the way it goes.Although it probably wasn t his intent, Bowles has written in Amar the most compelling and, dare I say, understandable, portrait of how colonial oppression, poverty, and religious fundamentalism collide to create the perfect crucible for birthing jihadist extremism.Understandable, believable, although I really don t know how accurate or true Leaving me mystifed, muddled, confused so basically, the same way I feel reading coverage of these same political religious conflicts today.I dock a star because the plot is nonsensical in places and I think not only because I was so confused as to the events history being depicted Polly as a character is appallingly flat and clich d sort of forgiveable, as mentioned, because it s 1954 and the dialogue and relationship between Stenham and Polly seems unmotivated and unrealistic.BUT the last scene between Polly, Stenham and Amar is breathtaking Absolutely breathtaking I can say no.SO I always recommend Bowles, and when my friends read him they invariably dislike him But I love love love him Proceed at your own discretion.For a much better sense of what this is about but caution, some spoilers if your threshold for same is low see this NYT review from 1955 and this contemporary review. Excellent, excellent book Bowles sets the story in Fes, Morocco during the struggle for independence from France I m currently living in Fes, so it had an added interest to me Bowles lived in Tangier for over half of his life so he was well acquainted with the Moroccan culture He brilliantly uses different viewpoints a local Muslim, a resident American, and a tourist American to analyze different perspectives on the struggle The Fes resident is a committed Muslim who sees his hatred for the infidels in this case the French as ordained and approved by Allah He displays a deterministic, resigned view of life where everything has been written beforehand by Allah and is his will The resident American loves Fes, at least for what it used to be He s cynical about any attempts to change it, whether the by the French or the resistance party He knows Fes will never be able to return to it s magical past and so he hates both sides in the struggle The tourist American is firmly committed to the idea of progress To her, modernity is inevitable, and to resist the change that even the French are trying to bring foreshadows the death of that culture But the book is also about change Each character slowly shifts their perspective on the struggle as they meet people that don t fit into their preconceived categories I don t want to throw the term masterpiece around lightly, but this certainly comes close By never providing a resolution to the book s questions, he forces the reader to question what progress really is Is modernity always a good thing Shouldn t destructive patterns of life, however traditional, be eliminated wherever we find them Isn t that in the people s best interest After all, if they knew what they were missing, they would ask for it, right But Bowles isn t satisfied with surface answers He convincingly shows how each perspective and each person s answers are inescapably tied to one s worldview His psychological analysis is gripping and beautiful to read I highly recommend this book. As much as I hate to admit it, many of the observations made about culture and the perception of foreigners really opened my eyes My favourite anecdote is when one of the Moroccan characters sees a woman, and the way he takes her in He notices her hair is uncovered, the jewellery she wears, but mainly how brazen she is, how flamboyant her gestures are, and how loud her speech is Initially he says, She must be a prostitute of the lowest sort, because even decent prostitutes display some sense of modesty and then he realizes she is a foreigner, and an American Just makes me think about the way people view me in public, especially since I look Moroccan It s quite amusing The book is written from a few perspectives and has a mystical everything happens by the will of Allah quality at times It is well put together, but the ending leaves something to be desired. In Spider s House, Paul Bowles leaves behind the moral lessons of meddling American s and decides to focus, truly, on the events of Morocco Set during their revolution against the French, the story follows two strands, that of an illiterate but intelligent native boy and that of an American novelist and his cohorts, at differing times living in the country for the last five years.The book is at its strongest when telling from the perspective of the Moroccan boy He is interesting and unique, both a product of his culture and independant from it, the way the best characters are While the American s story provides most of the context for the revolution, it is weakest because it presents, pretty much, a tired and seen before narrative.What is best, however, about the story, is that everyone is wrong The book is filled with misconceptions, misunderstandings and flat out biases No one is spared from Bowles criticism as even the most kind hearted and giving person is full of it at points and flat out incorrect at others To those that loved The Sheltering Sky, this novel may not work as well Whereas that first novel was reminiscent of the Sahara sun, spare and harsh, this one is steeped in Fez, dense and layered without the sense of clarity It is muddled, but in the way that people are muddled I would say it s a better book, but many disagree. The trick with historical novels is to make them equally specific and general Reading them a long time after the events they depict have transpired, one should ideally feel the same sense of urgency of history being lived and written, as well as comprehending the socio political context of their creation This is no small feat.Some historical novels go beyond even this they become cultural and historic touchstones that, presciently, seem to predict or comment upon courses of events beyond their pages, events waiting in the wings of history when these very words were written This gives them a power and a universality that makes such novels seemingly transcend history, and speak across the ages.Too grandiose Reading A Spider s House, I really do not think so This novel is such a succinct, startling and visceral summation of all the tensions in the Middle East that erupted in the Arab Spring, it is astonishing to consider it was written in 1955, at the time when Morocco was struggling for independence from French rule.In our time of hyper political correctness, there is a lot of pussyfooting around Islamic culture and religion in general, and a lot of hand wringing about how the West misunderstands Islam and how fuzzy wuzzy and tolerant it really is.However, all that this does is appropriate Islam for consumer culture, and validate it in the context of Western values and s It is as far from understanding as one can possibly get.Bowles does something extraordinarily brave in this novel his main viewpoint character is an illiterate Moslem boy, bookended by a pair of dissolute and thoroughly unlikeable Western expats There is also an evil Frenchman Bowles spares no one Interestingly, the male expat is an American writer bemoaning the fact that his romantic view of Fez is disintegrating in front of his eyes this is contrasted with the female expat, a professional tourist, who uses such sojourns as her Moroccan trip mainly for letter writing and dinner party anecdotes.She is also a fan of the writer, but finds it difficult to reconcile the mouldy real life person with the empathic author figure conveyed in his fiction This makes for a lot of rather black humour in the novel, and a perceptive discourse on the role of art and truth in fiction.Amar s daily scrabble for survival on the hard streets of Fez means he has no overarching sense of historical significance he literally lives from one moment to the next, in the context of his moral convictions, which are shaped by the immutable tenets of Islam.His world gets thrown into turmoil when nationalistic violence erupts in Fez, leading to a chance encounter with the pair of expats, and a steep learning curve for all on the mysteries and tragedies of the world.Bowles writes in his introduction that Fiction should always stay clear of political considerations which is a peculiar statement considering that A Spider s House is acutely political.Or is it Maybe the concept of politics is as misunderstood and as misrepresented as religion is these days certainly the interface between the two is very muddled, particularly in the Middle East.Bowles has an incredible sense of place, evoking Morocco and Africa with his magnificent descriptive powers Fez comes alive under his pen, in all its sun baked, smelly and dusty glory The sense of history, too, is crackling and immediate, amid the gunfire, chaos and brutality There is a lot of anger here anger against the colonial powers, anger against cowardly liberals, religious bigots, traitors and diehard fanatics for despoiling the humanist tendencies of Islam.It is a superbly sensory novel inevitably this means it will be a disaster as a movie, especially if Hollywood gets its hands on it one can only shudder at the thought of Amar being interpreted as a Spielbergian waif The Bearded One would never have the courage to convey the utterly devastating ending of this novel Or, even worse, he would turn him into a suicide bomber I would recommend this novel to anyone trying to make head or tail of the ongoing implosion in the Middle East You will get a far better understanding of the real issues facing the citizens on the ground, and the impact on their daily lives, than any number of bite sized television segments or newspaper reports. Neste livro, Paul Bowles leva nos at Marrocos, no in cio dos anos 50 tempo de conflito entre rabes e franceses A vida adquire um tom an rquico, os homens abandonaram as suas fam lias, for ados pela pobreza, em busca de trabalho em cidades vizinhas ou alistaram se no ex rcito onde h a garantia de que ter o o que comer Tens o, raiva e uma boa dose de preconceito de ambos os lados levam ao desencadear de ac es violentas que espalham o terrore acabam por juntar tr s indiv duos cuja aproxima o, num cen rio diferente, seria bastante improv vel uma progressista ing nua nas suas convic es, um ex comunista americano que gostaria simplesmente que tudo voltasse ao que era antes e um adolescente analfabeto mas bastante perspicaz que se deixa guiar fervorosamente pela religi o.N o utilizei em v o o verbo levar no primeiro par grafo Com as suas fant sticas descri es Paul Bowles desperta os nossos sentidos e parece, efectivamente, transportar nos para os cen rios de que nos fala Ficam nos imagens fortes que, acompanhadas de uma abordagem competente da cultura local, a n vel religioso e pol tico, e perdendo tempo fundamentando mentalidades e costumes, transformam este livro numa leitura muito interessante.A narrativa aproxima nos a dois lados e culturas bastante diferentes Muitos autores mostram um lado e tentam, muitas vezes at sem sucesso, explicar o outro, alheando se do mesmo e tornando bvio que h para eles um lado certo e um lado errado Bowles mostra nos os dois lados, e at mais, de forma equivalente, fundamentando os Infelizmente, f lo tamb m atrav s das suas personagens, criticando as, destacando os seus tra os negativos, e cortando assim qualquer la o de afinidade que pud ssemos desenvolver com elas.O ritmo ligeiramente mais lento do que o desej vel e acabei por gostar mais do exotismo do livro e da informa o til que cont m do que propriamente do enredo ficcional Incomodou me a mudan a abrupta de pontos de vista acabamos por voltar a entrar no compasso do livro mas n o sem passar por momentos de alguma confus o.O jovem marroquino Amar acredita na constante interven o de Al tudo o que acontece est fadado a acontecer e um homem n o tem o direito de lamentar o que inevit vel Da mesma forma, o autor cruza a vida destas tr s personagens com algum fatalismo, como se estivesse destinado a acontecer. The major portion of this book, the first 80%, is an utterly enchanting meditation on an exotic land Morocco and the contrasts between the archaic and modernity The writing is brilliant But the final part of the story either wobbled or, in my view, just collapsed as Bowles simply didn t know how to resolve the story he had so meticulously constructed If one can ignore this flaw, reading this book will be enormously rewarding. Set In Fez, Morocco, During That Country S Nationalist Uprising, The Spider S House Is Perhaps Paul Bowles S Most Beautifully Subtle Novel, Richly Descriptive Of Its Setting, And Uncompromising In Its Characterizations Exploring Once Again The Dilemma Of The Outsider In An Alien Society, And The Gap In Understanding Between Cultures Recurrent Themes Of Paul Bowles S Writings The Spider S House Is Dramatic, Brutally Honest, And Shockingly Relevant To Today S Political Situation In The Middle East And Elsewhere
Jane Bowles He moved to Tangiers permanently in 1947, with Auer following him there in 1948 There they became fixtures of the American and European expatriate scene, their visitors including Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal Bowles continued to live in Tangiers after the death of his wife in 1973.Bowles died of heart failure in Tangier on November 18, 1999 His ashes were interred near the graves of his parents and grandparents in Lakemont, New York.
- 432 pages
- The Spider's House
- Paul Bowles
- 11 February 2019 Paul Bowles