‘Pages from Cold Point’ by Paul Bowles

Before I read any of Paul Bowles’ stories, I had the vague impression his works were like dark, more adult versions of a Tintin story, replete with white travellers in exotic lands who meet sticky ends. Certainly this is how his contemporaries viewed him in the 1950s: as an adventure writer first and foremost.

And if you wanted to read this kind of ‘Paul Bowles,’ there are plenty of stories you could choose. But Bowles’ best works are psychologically and emotionally rich: claustrophobic and twisted, with protagonists pushed to the brink, on the verge of collapse. Like Cortázar’s story, ‘Pages from Cold Point’ uses an epistolary form—here the diary, rather than a letter—to slowly ratchet up the narrative tension. And though, like many great short stories, this hinges on a turning point, where the reader only belatedly sees they have misunderstood the relationship at the heart of this story, the revelation is not a gimmick, but the dark truth essential to Bowles’ vision of the world.

Collected in The Delicate Prey, Random House 1950; Ecco Press 1972. Note: this story was omitted from the first British edition of Bowles’s stories, on advice from Somerset Maugham that it might lead to censorship or prosecution

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