YOU ARE NOT I by Millicent Dillon


A Portrait of Paul Bowles
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This jumbled but ever readable account of the expatriate composer and author is not so much a biography as a meditation on the biographical process and its pitfalls. Anticipating the death of Paul Bowles, the last of the Tangiers giants, a full-scale literary industry is beginning to gear up. Bowles himself has never been a particularly prolific author, but each work of fiction, from The Sheltering Sky to the shortest of his short stories, arrived with a resounding fullness to it. A world so complete, so considered, that each work feels like a life’s oeuvre. There’s an elusive archetypal quality to his work that seems to mediate between the noumenal and phenomenal, as if these classic philosophic distinctions were almost resolvable. Like his work, Bowles seems to be just beyond full understanding, a passive acquiescent personality who can’t say no, but is very good at avoiding anything uncomfortable. He is particularly elusive when Dillon (who edited The Portable Paul and Jane Bowles as well as a volume of Jane Bowles’s letters) attempts to tease out the deeply autobiographical elements of his work: “Hadn’t he always been in the process of escaping? Escaping into another room, escaping across borders into another country, escaping into regions within himself, escaping into others, escaping into his characters, even as they too are escaping.” Dillon here has thrown over the traditional biographical method in favor of a free-form approach, part interview, part reminiscence, part autobiography. Based largely on hundreds of hours spent with Bowles, it’s a fascinating mix that doesn’t quite gel, although there are flashes of real insight. The autobiographical elements are overplayed, although such elements as the arrival of a second, rival biographer and Dillon’s sense that she is trapped in a Bowles novel are so intriguing, one excuses their irrelevance. (15 b&w photos)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-520-21104-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998


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