Structurally experimental adventure Sep 30, 2007
As Tennessee Williams points out in the introduction, this novel is much more about atmosphere and cultural awareness than it is about character or plot. We are led to believe that the protagonist is a lonely, repressed man travelling with his ebullient wife in North Africa. However, partway through the book, his wife takes center stage.
Bowles is able to articulate, through sparse language and a detailed landscape, what it means for Euro-Americans to encounter a North African culture in a post-colonial era. Rather than situate Muslims or Arabs in a "heart of darkness" atmosphere of fear, he infuses them with mystery, assuredness, and self-confidence. It's the white ex-patriots that struggle to feel genuinely, experience intimacy, and lose their self-consciousness in their escape from WWII's devastation.
The brilliant title, the "sheltering sky" refers to the feeling the displaced wanderers have that the sky is a mere veil separating them from the horrid, desolate frontier of space. It functions as a fitting metaphor for the characters' alienation from the universe and, ultimately, themselves.