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 At the time of his death in 1957, Lowry also left behind a great deal of uncollected and unpublished writing: stories, novellas, drafts of novels and revisions of drafts of novels (Lowry was a tireless revisiter and reviser—and interrupter—of his work), long,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 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.
Lowry is, needless to say, a one-of-a-kind writer: not prolific, decreasingly celebrated, enigmatic, tormented to the point of being tormenting and, as it happens, brilliant and essential to any calculation of twentieth-century fiction.
— Richard Ford
Here is a book to make all Lowry fans rejoice: a superb selection from his lesser-known writings—the stories, poems, letters, above all the unfinished novels he struggled with for the last ten years of his life. The body of work they reveal—one of magnificent fragments and singularities—is often as striking, in its own way, as Under the Volcano itself, and it forms a riveting companion volume to that masterpiece. It deserves to become a classic in its own right.
— James Lasdun
This year marks the 50th anniversary of [Lowry’s] death, for which poet Hofmann has brought together a range of materials unpublished in Lowry’s lifetime. Although virtually all of these poems, short stories, drafts, and letters were published posthumously in some form, they are scattered and hard to find. Highlights include the short story that eventually became Chapter 8 of Under the Volcano, letters to American poet Conrad Aiken, and various pieces based on Lowry’s wide-ranging travels. Hofmann writes the introduction.
— Library Journal
The Voyage that Never Ends…is nevertheless a gorgeous plum pudding of a book, full of tragi-comic insights…
— The Spectator (London)