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 At the time of his death in 1957, Lowry also left behind a great deal of uncollected and unpublished writing: stories, novellas, drafts of novels and revisions of drafts of novels (Lowry was a tireless revisiter and reviser-and interrupter-of his work), long,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 Lowry's 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 Lowry's extraordinary and singular achievement. The result is a revelation.
In the letters-acknowledged to be among modern literature's 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.
Malcolm Lowry (July 28, 1909-June 27, 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, Lowry's 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. Lowry's 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.