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The Spider's House

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  874 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Dramatizes the way that the French rulers of Morocco and their successors, the Nationalists, succeeded in ending the medieval traditions in the daily life of towns life Fez.
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published January 1st 1980 by Black Sparrow Press (first published 1955)
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The major portion of this book, the first 80%, is an utterly enchanting meditation on an exotic land (Morocco) and the contrasts between the archaic and modernity. The writing is brilliant. But the final part of the story either wobbled or, in my view, just collapsed - as Bowles simply didn't know how to resolve the story he had so meticulously constructed. If one can ignore this flaw, reading this book will be enormously rewarding.
Jennifer (aka EM)
I've been trying to figure out how to review this book. Bowles is one of the most challenging novelists I've read. I read him, and I respond to the ideas and concepts emotionally and with a visceral understanding and empathy, more than intellectually. The plots, characters, dialogue leave me flummoxed but no less entranced.

I now love the two novels I've read, The Sheltering Sky and this one, although I'm convinced that I truly comprehend only about 10 or 15 percent of each one.

Both take place
Jonathan Biddle
Excellent, excellent book. Bowles sets the story in Fes, Morocco during the struggle for independence from France. I'm currently living in Fes, so it had an added interest to me. Bowles lived in Tangier for over half of his life so he was well acquainted with the Moroccan culture. He brilliantly uses different viewpoints--a local Muslim, a resident American, and a tourist American--to analyze different perspectives on the struggle.

The Fes resident is a committed Muslim who sees his hatred for t
Mar 11, 2014 Danny rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for an engrossing story
Recommended to Danny by: Gifted by my sister.
It has been about two years since i read this book, so i won't go into too much plot detail, but i will instead share some of my impressions of the book.
This book was written circa 1956-58 by Paul Bowles, an American author who spent most of his adult life living in Morocco. The book, unsurprisingly, takes place in Morocco on the eve of the revolution in which the Moroccans won their independence from France. The story follows a young Moroccan and an American author simultaneously, and depicts w
Tempo de Ler
Neste livro, Paul Bowles leva-nos até Marrocos, no início dos anos 50; tempo de conflito entre árabes e franceses. A vida adquire um tom anárquico, os homens abandonaram as suas famílias, forçados pela pobreza, em busca de trabalho em cidades vizinhas ou alistaram-se no exército onde há a garantia de que terão o que comer.

Tensão, raiva e uma boa dose de preconceito de ambos os lados levam ao desencadear de acções violentas que espalham o terror...e acabam por juntar três indivíduos cuja aproxim
In Spider's House, Paul Bowles leaves behind the moral lessons of meddling American's and decides to focus, truly, on the events of Morocco. Set during their revolution against the French, the story follows two strands, that of an illiterate but intelligent native boy and that of an American novelist (and his cohorts, at differing times) living in the country for the last five years.

The book is at its strongest when telling from the perspective of the Moroccan boy. He is interesting and unique,
The trick with historical novels is to make them equally specific and general. Reading them a long time after the events they depict have transpired, one should ideally feel the same sense of urgency of history being lived and written, as well as comprehending the socio-political context of their creation. This is no small feat.

Some historical novels go beyond even this; they become cultural and historic touchstones that, presciently, seem to predict or comment upon courses of events beyond thei
One could read this novel in many ways: as Paul Bowles' skewering of his own orientalist desires for Moroccan transhistorical "primitivism"; as a fictionalised account of the beggining of the Moroccan revolution; as a far superior, more complex and far more critical reading of the "clash of civilizations" thesis; as a novel about a stupid American man pursuing a rather bratty American woman; as a novel about tourism and travel, to be read alongside Edward Said's Orientalism; as an attempt to und ...more
Jasmine Star
As much as I hate to admit it, many of the observations made about culture and the perception of foreigners really opened my eyes. My favourite anecdote is when one of the Moroccan characters sees a woman, and the way he takes her in. He notices her hair is uncovered, the jewellery she wears, but mainly how brazen she is, how flamboyant her gestures are, and how loud her speech is. Initially he says, “She must be a prostitute of the lowest sort, because even decent prostitutes display some sense ...more
David Corvine
This should have been an easy one for me.... I like Paul Bowles and I like Fez. Unfortunately, this book just didn't work for me, overly long and meandering. The relationship between Stenham and Lee Burroughs just doesn't ring true. They don't seem that interested in,or even to like, each other. If this had been written by Graham Greene it would have been two hundred pages shorter and the boy would have ended up dead through some act of betrayal. Bowles seems to have been dragged reluctantly int ...more
I've been living in Fez for four days with Amar, Polly (Lee) and John Stenham. What an adventure inside and out of the medina. Paul Bowles artfully weaves Arabic and French words in the story which did bother me at first (much like the first few days traveling in Asia or the Middle East) until i gave into it and caught on. War between the French and Moroccans wasn't the only battle going on. It was a battle of the sexes when Lee and Stenman got together. It was also a battle between pure Islam a ...more
David Mueller
Anyone who is already a fan of Bowles' work will find much to enjoy here. This novel is full of the penetrating psychological and political insight typical of his best writings. The setting is the early 50's (most likely late 53- early 54) in the Morrocan city of Fez, on the eve of that country's uprising against the French. Many of Bowles' observations on the relations between the occupying French and the Morrocans are stilll depressingly relevant to the political theater of today. The pace her ...more
From the famous author who lived in Fez, eve of 1956 from the POV of a teenage boy and a crusty American expat. I enjoyed being in Fez while reading this, as it brought the city alive in a new way; it made you see the cracks and crevices and piles of trash as parts of a long fascinating and tumultuous history. Interesting to read the POV of a Muslim boy written by an American, too--and his other character is a writer bemoaning how the romantic Fez he knew will never be the same. I didnt finish t ...more
Christopher Sutch
This is definitely the best of Bowles's first three novels, an extremely detailed and well-crafted story about the beginnings of the Moroccan struggle for independence from France. The novel's protagonist is a Fassi boy and much of the story is told from his point of view, which makes the contrast between his worldview and that of the American characters very stark and, ultimately, devastating. The American protagonists are slowly revealed to be people entirely selfish and not knowledgeable abou ...more
What I enjoy about reading Paul Bowles is the departure one inevitably embarks on during the process. Not just the fact that the places he writes about - and his ability to transport you there - are truly far away, but also the thought processes, opinions, and perceptions of the characters... wholly formed yet so very refreshingly different. Yet the differences, the color, of these characters (at nearly the end of the book I realized at least 3 or 4 of them, although completely at odds in terms ...more
Robin Friedman
Paul Bowles (1910 -- 1999) was an American composer and writer who lived as an expatriate in Tangier beginning in 1947. Bowles' third novel takes its title from a verse in The Koran:

"The likeness of those who choose other patrons than Allah is as the likeness of the spider when she taketh unto herself a house, and lo! the frailest of all houses is the spider's house, if they but knew."

Unlike Bowles' famous novel, "The Sheltering Sky" which tells the story of lost, wandering Americans, "The Spide
Isaac Cooper
You either have it or you don’t. I’ll be damned if that’s not the truest thing I’ve ever heard. Paul Bowles clearly wanted to be a writer and, clearly, someone must have seen something in him initially to get him published but, after trying to read two of his books, I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever that initial person thought he had was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, so very wrong, so very, very, very wrong.

I have no shame in admitting I abandoned this two pages in. I remember aban
Olga Kovalenko
Reading the book, you could see the author in its characters, his thoughts in their ways of life, his awe and disgust in the vistas dscribed. It is as if you were looking at Morocco throught the medium of "Paul Bowles" - through his sense of scent, taste, touch, hearing and vision, through his mind constructs and the layers of his upbringing and experiences of different cultures.
That's what I like in the novel (more than in two other novels of his that I've read - Sheltering Sky and Let it Come
Julie Tridle
I'm afraid I'm only giving this book three stars because my brain is currently too mushy to have allowed me to enjoy it more. So actually, I give my brain 3 stars. I will say I liked the cast of characters and story in Let It Come Down a lot better than I did with this book. I'm afraid it's been too long since my last reading of The Sheltering Sky to really make any comparisons there. Sort of a lame review I know.
I never wanted this book to end. Bowles is amazing in his ability to portray so many different sides and cultures that are at conflict, not only assuming how they might act or speak, but going into entire thought processes, histories and cultural values revealing an entire reasoning for every action. I felt the same way when I finished The Sheltering Sky and I can't wait to read more of his writing.
Peter Way
At only a few pages a day this has taken a while to read as it is a long book. Probably not the one I would recommend as the first Paul Bowles to read, perhaps the second or third. It is a pretty deep book set in the Moroccan revolution of 1954, in Fez particularly, ending colonial French rule, but only lightly dealing with that crisis. It is more about the central figure Amar, a young Moroccan, his beliefs, his life and his response to 'outsiders'. The outsiders in question is a group of an Eng ...more
Sep 16, 2009 PAUL DRAGAVON rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes a good adventure and wants to learn about new cultures
"Bowles, Paul, The Spider’s House, New York, The Sparrow Press, 1955

The story revolves around two...more Bowles, Paul, The Spider’s House, New York, The Sparrow Press, 1955

The story revolves around two characters from totally different cultures. Alain Stenham is an American author living in Morocco, where he has been for many years. He is writing a novel and is trying to understand the Moslem culture about him. To that end he has learned rudimentary Arabic. Amar, a Cherif, a descendent of Moham
Eric Steere
This book is written in the context of the post-colonial period amidst the geopolitical concerns of the Cold War period. Amazingly, Bowles retreats not only from these overarching and potentially limiting themes for the greater narrative, but as well from a perspective that seemingly removes the narrator from the narrative, allowing these greater macro-concerns and the thoughts and actions of its main characters a more autonomous space whereby a more dynamic work is produced.

Written in the mid-
Lisa Kavanaugh
4.5 stars A perfect read while traveling through Morocco to try and understand the perspective of the Moroccans and the history of the French protectorate and the uprising resulting in Moroccan independence in 1954. Set in the medieval city of Fes, Bowles (who lived in Morocco for 20+ years and was there at the time to witness this period in history) does a beautiful job of representing the perspective of the traditional Moroccan's, the Nationalists, and the foreign Westerner (American in this c ...more
Spoilers be wary on these seas.

While I found the writing in The Spider's House to be some of Bowles's very best, two main (and somewhat related) problems kept me from giving this more than an average rating.

It was the narrative shifts that I found problematic. Normally, I'm all in favor of narrative shifts, but Bowles made two main mistakes. The first was the slight introduction of Stenham, coming in at no more than 12 pages, and ending with what amounts to a cliffhanger.

So far, no
Having little knowledge of Islam or Morocco's history -- 1954's nationalist uprising in particular -- there was not much for me to grab onto in the novel. Luckily, Bowles' mastery at capturing landscape, light, and desert heat is on full display here, so I had a sense of the environment, but it was hard to grasp the novel's geography when names of places were referred to repeatedly but not contextualized. Likewise I found it hard to invest myself in Amar's story, which makes up most of the novel ...more
While reading, these are the things I googled: kif, which is hashish; medina, which is a yellow, dusty, religious sector of a Muslim town -- also the name of a city in Saudi Arabia; and the title of the book itself. I was looking for answers. Notably, this story based on the 1950's nationalist uprising in Morocco is prescient of some of our -- and by "our" I mean the USA's -- troubles regarding the hearts and minds of those citizens of the countries where we are staging our wars. Neither google ...more
Whoah. I don't know if I can articulate how much I liked this book. It takes place in Fez before and during this big uprising by the Moroccans and consequent clamping down by the French that happened sometime in the 50's. When I was reading it it was like I could get glimpses into the souls of the 2 main characters, the Moroccan boy and the American man, and I kind of understood parts of them and simultaneously was appalled by other parts of them, but they were basically sympathetic and natural. ...more
While I loved the setting and all of the romantic possibilities of Casablanca - I had to settle for interesting introspections of the two main characters. The love story was weak at best - the female character was unlikeable and one-dimensional. The story wobbled and stumbled and ultimately just gave up. But the setting and the love the author had for the place was so darn good. Drat.
Written in 1955-6 in a country (Morocco) many of us don't have any way to understand. The local Arabs are devout Muslim and have their own code for living and dying, as well as a complicated language for ethics, brutality, sincerity, happiness. This author lived among the people for many years and learned to speak Arabic, and wrote this story from some of the things he was experiencing with the French taking over Morocco one city at a time. His portrayal is in depth, detailed, and extraordinaril ...more
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Spider's House, Paul Bowles 2 13 May 31, 2013 05:30AM  
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Paul Bowles grew up in New York, and attended college at the University of Virginia before traveling to Paris, where became a part of Gertrude Stein's literary and artistic circle. Following her advice, he took his first trip to Tangiers in 1931 with his friend, composer Aaron Copeland.

In 1938 he married author and playwright Jane Auer (see: Jane Bowles). He moved to Tangiers permanently in 1947,
More about Paul Bowles...

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“The only thing that makes life worth living is the possibility of experiencing now and then a perfect moment. And perhaps even more than that, it's having the ability to recall such moments in their totality, to contemplate them like jewels.” 11 likes
“If people are living the same as always, with their bellies full of food, they'll just go on the same way. If they get hungry and unhappy enough, something happens.” 8 likes
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