Synopses & Reviews
A NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS ORIGINAL
Notorious for a misspent life full of binges, blackouts, and unimaginable bad luck, Malcolm Lowry managed, against every odd, to complete and publish two novels, one of them, Under the Volcano, an indisputable masterpiece. At the time of his death in 1957, Lowry also left behind a great deal of uncollected and unpublished writing: stories, novellas, drafts of novels and revisions of drafts of novels (Lowry was a tireless revisiter and reviser—and interrupter—of his work), long, impassioned, haunting, beautiful letters overflowing with wordplay and lament, fraught short poems that display a sozzled off-the-cuff inspiration all Lowrys own. Over the years these writings have appeared in various volumes, all long out of print. Here, in The Voyage That Never Ends, the poet, translator, and critic Michael Hofmann has drawn on all this scattered and inaccessible material to assemble the first book that reflects the full range of Lowrys extraordinary and singular achievement.
The result is a revelation. In the letters—acknowledged to be among modern literatures greatest—we encounter a character who was, as contemporaries attested, as spellbinding and lovable as he was self-destructive and infuriating. In the late fiction—the long story “Through the Panama,” sections of unfinished novels such as Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid, and the little-known La Mordida—we discover a writer who is blazing a path into the unknown and, as he goes, improvising a whole new kind of writing. Lowry had set out to produce a great novel, something to top Under the Volcano, a multivolume epic and intimate tale of purgatorial suffering and ultimate redemption (called, among other things, “The Voyage That Never Ends”). That book was never to be. What he produced instead was an unprecedented and prophetic blend of fact and fiction, confession and confusion, essay and free play, that looks forward to the work of writers as different as Norman Mailer and William Gass, but is like nothing else. Almost in spite of himself, Lowry succeeded in transforming his disastrous life into an exhilarating art of disaster. The Voyage That Never Ends is a new and indispensable entry into the world of one of the masters of modern literature.
"British precursor of everyone from the Beats to Bruce Chatwin, Lowry (1909-1957) published the fierce, feverish Under the Volcano in 1947, and, haunted by that novel's kitchen-sink perfection, worked on other projects but never completed another book before his alcohol-related death. Here, poet and translator Hofmann selects from among the plethora of Lowry's fugitive output: seven prose fiction pieces, a sampling of poems, excerpts of drafts from three posthumously edited and published works and a selection of letters from Lowry's writings. 'Under the Volcano,' a short story that was eventually engulfed by the novel, appears early on here. The story 'Through the Panama,' one of two stories concerning Sigbjørn Wilderness and his journal, mentions his novel 'about a character... enmeshed in the plot of the novel he has written,' and proceeds through a thicket of allusion to British and American literature. The most memorable (and most reprinted) piece here is the heavily autobiographical 'The Forest Path to the Spring,' richly evocative of a northern British Columbia seascape and the outcasts who inhabit it. The specter of Fascism, the generations of writers in Lowry's head, and various figurative transformations ('something of vast importance to me had taken place, without my knowledge and outside time altogether,') play in throughout. The lack of annotations leaves one a bit at sea amidst the often startling flotsam and jetsam, but with Lowry it's almost appropriate." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
(1909-1957) was born in New Brighton, England, the youngest of four sons of Arthur O. Lowry, a rich Liverpool businessman and devout Methodist. Brought up largely by nannies, he attended the Leys School in Cambridge before shipping out “to see the world” on the merchant steamer Pyrrhus, an ordeal that supplied him with the material for his first novel, Ultramarine
. Already a heavy drinker, Lowry studied writing privately with the poet and novelist Conrad Aiken in America before taking a degree at Cambridge. Ultramarine
was published in 1933, and that same year Lowry married Jan Gabrial. They were never happy, and often apart; in 1940 they divorced, after which Lowry married Margerie Bonner, a minor Hollywood star whom he had met some years before. Starting in 1936 and while moving restlessly back and forth between Mexico, the US, and Canada, Lowry worked on his great novel Under the Volcano
, which went through multiple drafts and was rejected by twelve publishers before coming out in 1947. During the last decade of his life, Lowrys drinking left him in ever worse health. He and Margerie lived for the most part in a fishing shack in Dollarton, British Columbia, but also traveled widely, and in 1955 they moved to Ripe in Sussex. Lowrys death two years later, among a litter of bottles and pills, was attributed by the coroner to “misadventure.”
Michael Hofmann is a poet and translator. He has translated nine books by Joseph Roth and was awarded the PEN translation prize for String of Pearls. He lives in London.