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Lowry, Malcolm

firmin self novel dead

(British, 1909–57)

Lowry came from a well-to-do family in New Brighton, Cheshire, and before going to university signed on as deckhand on a voyage to the Far East, an experience he used in his first novel, Ultramarine (1933). Thereafter he lived in the United States, Mexico, and for several years in a squatter's beach shack in Dollarton, Canada.

During his lifetime he published only one other novel, hailed as a work of genius, and on which his reputation rests. The action of Under the Volcano (1947) takes place on a single day in a small Mexican town, during the annual festival of the Day of the Dead. Geoffrey Firmin, the disgraced ex-consul, is drinking himself to death, while his ex-wife and brother look on helplessly; he ends up shot in a ravine with a dead pariah dog for company. The book is dense and complex, interweaving past and present, charting Firmin's urge to self-destruction with lacerating and unsparing honesty. For Firmin, read Lowry. A chronic drunk for most of his life, driven by demons of guilt and self-disgust, he worked manically for recognition as a writer, and when it came it killed him. His posthumous works were compiled from a disordered mountain of unfinished drafts. Lunar Caustic (1968) tells of his three weeks of hallucinatory hell in Bellevue psychiatric hospital; Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid (1968), set in Mexico, is about the break-up of his first marriage. There was also a short volume of Selected Poems (1962), a fragment from which might serve as Lowry's epitaph: ‘Success is like some horrible disaster Worse than your house burning.’

B. Traven, Joseph Conrad, Hermann Hesse  TH

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