From Stephen Metcalf’s review of a new collection of Malcolm Lowry tidbits:
“Essentially a humble fellow,” Lowry wrote of his alter ego Sigbjorn Wilderness in the expressionistic bender “Through the Panama,” “he has tried his hardest all his life to understand (though maybe still not hard enough) so that his room is full of Partisan Reviews, Kenyon Reviews, Minotaurs, Poetry mags, Horizons, even old Dials, of whose contents he is able to make out precisely nothing, save where an occasional contribution of his own, years and years ago, rings a faint bell in his mind, a bell that is growing even fainter, because to tell the truth he can no longer understand his own early work either.”
Metcalf calls Lowry’s first novel, Ultramarine, “a mediocre novel.” It just so happens that I finished re-reading Ultramarine the other night; I read it ten years ago or so and fished it from a box when I was packing books for the move. Had always meant to read it again, and did. Everything I liked in it the first time around I found again: the high-modernist realism paired with long flights of stream of consciousness, the disjunction between his immature internal longings and his macho posturings, the long stretches with nothing but dialogue, all from different speakers and jammed together. The last quarter or so of the book is all heard, not seen. So “mediocre,” I don’t know. Children’s Hospital is mediocre. Yiddish Policeman’s Union is mediocre. Ultramarine has cojones.