Paul Bowles Essay - Bowles, Paul (Vol. 1)

Bowles, Paul (Vol. 1)

Bowles, Paul 1910–

American-born novelist living in Morocco, Bowles is also a composer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

One of the novels of the talented Paul Bowles, Let It Come Down, is full of motion, full of sensational depravities, and is a crashing bore. For the book recognizes no good, admits no evil, and is coldly indifferent to the moral behavior of its characters. It is a long shrug. Such a view of life is non-dramatic, negating the vital essence of drama.

Edmund Fuller, in his Man in Modern Fiction: Some Minority Opinions on Contemporary American Writing (© 1958 by Edmund Fuller; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1958, p. 41.

Bowles is an obsessionist, and his obsession may be simply stated: that psychological well-being is in inverse ratio to what is commonly known as progress, and that a highly evolved culture enjoys less peace of mind than one which is less highly evolved.

Oliver Evans, "Paul Bowles and the 'Natural' Man," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. III, No. 1, 1959, pp. 43-59.

[The] landscape in The Sheltering Sky itself represents the inhumanity of people who can no longer communicate with one another, the coldness of a world that now seems to put man off. What minimizes the symbolic values in The Sheltering Sky and deprives us of the "resonance" we used to get in fiction is the aloneness of people who are concerned entirely with the search for their own sexual satisfaction. The slightly depressing atmosphere of anxiety that hangs over Bowles's novel is characteristic of the effort to find an identity for oneself in sexual relationships.

Alfred Kazin, "The Alone Generation," in Harper's, October, 1959, pp. 127-31.

If the word 'Gothic' still has any meaning when applied to fiction then Bowles's—The Sheltering Sky (1949), Let it Come Down (1952), The Spider's House (1955)—are Gothic novels and as such are related to horror comics. In a sense, they are indeed highbrow horror comics, and the isolation of the horrific or the beastly or the vilely incongruous is an essential part of Bowles's method…. As a Gothic novelist, Bowles is a modern version of Poe. Like Poe's, his theme is the disintegration of the psyche; and his novels are works of symbolism in which the world described is really the interior world of his characters….

In these novels Bowles expresses the ultimate horror of nothingness. Yet, though the books affect one while reading almost as a series of physical assaults, one is scarcely moved by them, because Bowles scarcely tries to persuade us that his characters have value as human beings.

Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel (© 1964 by Walter Allen; published by E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. and used with their permission), Dutton, 1964, pp. 300-01.

Trained as a composer and influenced by the French symbolists and surrealists, Bowles came on the scene as a fully developed artist who was looking to revive the modernist movement….

Of the writers who devoted themselves to negation and despair, Bowles was probably the most subtle as well as the most uncompromising. The stories in A Delicate Prey with their lucid, quiet evocation of mood and motive leading to revelations of scarifying depravity were often so powerful that they made the nihilism of the early Hemingway seem like a pleasant beery melancholy…. Though most of these stories in A Delicate Prey still make one feel they were written with a razor, so deftly and chillingly do they cut to the bone, there was clearly more to Bowles than the desire to shock, dismay, and terrorize….

The abysses and furies of the human psyche; the fragile, provisional nature of the civilized instincts, the lure of the primitive and the inhuman; the sadness of deracinated people; the underground warfare of marriage and friendship; the lonely divisions between desire and behavior, between having and holding, between one motive and the next; the modern world's contagions of Angst, dread, deadness: all these strains of the existentialist vision are dramatically presented in Bowles's earlier work and come to a classic statement in his novel The Sheltering Sky, one of the most beautifully written novels of the past twenty years and one of the most shattering…. In retrospect, The Sheltering Sky stands as the climax of Bowles's literary career: the book into which he put his strongest image of life and his deepest knowledge about it. This image and knowledge admit of little expansion.

Theodore Solotaroff, "Paul Bowles: The Desert Within" (1967), in his The Red Hot Vacuum and Other Pieces on the Writing of the Sixties, Atheneum, 1970, pp. 254-60.