“Death is always on its way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life….we get to think of life as an inexhaustable well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times…How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet is all seems limitless.”
Set during the end of the second world war, married couple Porter and Katherine Moresby are contemplating their next traveling excursion. Together their sole purpose is to get away from any sort of civil conflicts; because at this point they have enough internal causes for concern. As it stands they no longer consider themselves physical beings, just sad, listless living existences with unconscious spiritual presences desperate for an awakening, or better yet, the assurance that they have been right all along. Being more heightened in her spiritual awareness, Kit at times has very foreboding visions in the days, weeks, months ahead of their travels. Port is more of a nihilist, a pessimist, a true cynic at heart, and as he decides on their latest expedition he must find a non-threatening partner to keep Kit out of his hair while he goes ahead with his own independent study. Well, really it is the husbands desire to leave the United States behind and reject the possibilities of colourless Europe in search of something more. Kit on the other hand is quite submissive when it comes to placating her husband Port and preserving their troubled marriage, but with everyone else she comes in contact with, she seems to have little patience for. Kit would much rather go somewhere a little more predictable and obligatory, than bring more complexities into an already troubled situation. From the outset Port’s mind seems to be adrift, captivated by the beauty that only the desert can provide, he desperately wants to go to North Africa, specifically he wants to go to the Sahara; and what he wants he usually gets. But be careful what you wish for my fictional friend.
The Sheltering Sky is a story of mortality, the fear of a life spiritually depraved, detachment, and the search for fulfillment at all costs. Privileged lives devoid of purpose, responsibility and in a sense, life. Throughout the story there are many times where you can see the main characters disconnecting from the world around them, their significant others, falling into a deep depression which eventually leads into some sort of mania. The environment plays a key role in this novel where at times the sky above the Sahara amazes them, at times the local fauna overwhelms them, and eventually the lack of humanity consumes them. What they end up learning is that as solitary as the desert can make you feel, nothing ever gets lost, no matter how long, it will be found.
” ‘You’re never humanity; you’re only your own poor hopelessly isolated self.’ Kit tried to interrupt. He raised his voice and went on: ‘I don’t have to justify my existence by any such primitive means. The fact that I breathe is my justification. If humanity doesn’t consider that a justification, it can do what it likes to me. I’m not going to carry a passport to existence around with me, to prove I have the right to be here! I’m here! I’m in the world! But my world’s not humanity’s world. It’s the world as I see it.’ “
Not a willing participant in a sexually open relationship, Kit is not blind to the fact that Port has occasional flings with woman during his travels. Given the time that this story was set it is not hard to come to the conclusion that this was not a conventional marriage in any shape, matter, or form. They are both intellectuals that share many things in common, but their levels of compromise keeps their relationship unbalanced. As a reader you have no idea of what has led these two to this point, you have no sense of history or how they came to be. You are simply thrust into the story, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.
“His went on through the final image: the spots of raw bright blood on the earth. Blood on excrement. The supreme moment, high above the desert, when the two elements, blood and excrement, long kept apart, merge. A black star appears, a point of darkness in the night sky’s clarity. Point of darkness and gateway to repose. Reach out, pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky, take repose.”
In an obvious sense this is an adventure novel. Not many people in the world get to set foot in North Africa or dip their toes in the sand of the Sahara so reading about it provides a level of comprehension minus the passport stamp. Ultimately this is a book about the wearing down or the erosion of the human condition; how over a period of ten years a person can slowly regress, but take the same cast of characters, and put them in a truly foreign setting with their own ideals and you see how fast people can degenerate. The whole aspect of the story is amazing to read about, but was occasionally lost due to the focus on environmental factors. My favourite section was the final section called The Sky, due to the fact that it felt so raw and was so definitive; different from the previous two sections that seemed to allude too much.
The author writes with great knowledge of his subjects, and the prominent subject is that of North Africa in the 1940’s. He prods the characters to investigate the scenery farther and farther into the depths through dreamlike coercion’s, irrationality, delusions, and the succumbing to a new found freedom. This was a very interesting read that withholds a level of satisfaction that readers truly desire. This was a struggle to get through with occasional payoffs but overall the writing didn’t draw a parallel to the darkness of the characters.
” ‘The mistake you make is in being afraid. That is a great mistake. The signs are given us for our good, not for our harm. But when you are afraid you read them wrong and make bad things where good ones were meant to be. ‘But I am afraid,’ protested Kit. ‘How can I change that? It’s impossible.’ He looked at her and shook his head. ‘That is not the way to live,’ he said. ‘I know,’ She said sadly.”