Up Above the World

by Paul Bowles


My immediate reaction is ambivalence. I was annoyed and disappointed that the story little resembles the description on the back (or on this site), since the synopsis itself was intriguing. The narrative is choppy, and switching perspectives between 4 or 5 equally unsympathetic characters does little to involve me as a reader. The dialogue and characterization is sometimes clumsy as well. The ending twist is rather fantastic and implausible, but it has me considering a re-read for the near future, in order to garner all of the subtle conversational clues that are sprinkled throughout the narrative.

But still, there is something about the book (and Bowles’ style) that is simply hypnotic. The man sets a tone like few I have seen, and he’s a master at narrating subtle shifts in mood and psychology among his characters. I really love how he introduces each new setting with a paragraph or two of description, hitting upon the sights, sounds, and smells, just masterful. A sense of despair, disconnect and supreme isolation permeates both of the Bowles books I have read. You wonder why his characters can’t just be straight with one another, and air out their grievances.

I read The Sheltering Sky several years ago but didn’t get it, and this book leaves me with a similar opinion/mood. Time to re-read both I think.



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