17 January 2019

Book Review: The Delicate Prey by Paul Bowles

This is a very captivating book. Then again, I am a Paul Bowles fan, so I am probably biased. In any case, the short stories in this volume are narratives that one would typically expect of him. If you have read his novels such as The Sheltering Sky, then you'll know that Bowles is merciless in destroying his characters. None of his characters are likeable, all have flaws, all have defects, and all have sinister intentions. And all slowly get destroyed by their harsh environment, which they always underestimate.

Unlike his novels, these short stories have plenty of things happening, and fast. In a novel, there's plenty of time to develop characters. In short stories, you only have a few pages. So things happen suddenly here. In Bowles's stories, there's always a foreign entity in a strange land, whether it's a professor of linguistics wanting to document dialects in Berber territory, to American priests wanting to convert indigenous peoples. And in many of these occasions, the culture shock definitely comes as a shock, sometimes even deadly.

You might say that Bowles keeps on writing more of the same, but for some reason, I found it so seductive and sultry, very captivating, and very interesting to see that characters are slowly destroyed one by one, either by their harsh surroundings, or by the native people around them who they don't take the time to take seriously. Perhaps I find so many parallels with Western (for the most part American) tourists, who are monolingual, who couldn't be bothered to learn the ways of the foreign country they're in, and who think that it's always better at home. Perhaps the fact that I have lived in multiple different countries growing up made me realise that there's a real merit to immersing oneself in a foreign culture, which is unfortunately not done by most of the people on the planet.

There are a dozen stories contained in this volume. Some of these stories could keep me awake at night. These stories are definitely gripping, and absolutely recommended. If you loved The Sheltering Sky or any of his other novels, then this is a must read for you. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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