The two central facts about Malcolm Lowry are that he wrote and that he drank. He drank while writing - or possibly he wrote while drinking. When he died in June 1957 after downing a lethal mix of barbiturates and gin (the coroner's verdict was 'death by misadventure'), he left behind a trunk full of unfinished manuscripts and an impracticably ambitious scheme to develop all his work in progress and his two published novels into a complex sequence for which the projected title was The Voyage That Never Ends. The whole vessel, a many-layered, interrelated reflection on the writer's fraught engagement with his art, would incorporate virtually everything Lowry had ever committed to paper: a revised and improved version of his first book, Ultramarine, published 24 years earlier; Under the Volcano (1947), his only critical and commercial success; Lunar Caustic, which would draw on his stay in a psychiatric ward; a two-part saga about an embattled author figure very much like Lowry himself called The Ordeal of Sigbjørn Wilderness; a trilogy about the writing (and drinking) life, Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid, Eridanus and La Mordida, again featuring this lightly disguised alter ego; October Ferry to Gabriola, based on Lowry's experience of being threatened with eviction from his hideout in British Columbia; stories, poems, a play. It would be his 'Life Work', nothing less than a voyage into the interior, a meditation on the complex psychological elements at play in the writer's impact on the world and vice versa. 'All that remains,' Lowry told his agent Harold Matson in 1951 when outlining the stages of this mammoth journey, 'is to get myself into a material position where I can consummate the ordeal by the further ordeal of writing it.' He never did.
LRB 1 November 2007 | PDF Download