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Just as Malcolm Lowry's one novel, Under the Volcano, which has unquestionably outlived him, reflects much of his life, his letters, collected and edited here by Harvey Breit and his wife, are a counterpoint to his work. Lowry, in many ways like Dylan Thomas, was the ""artist at bay, cornered as it were by poverty, the world's indifference, and his apparently savage inclination for alcohol."" He was also disoriented, disturbed and driven and throughout the correspondence which is self explanatory but never self excusing, he is hounded by the circumstances of imprisonment, debt, illness, etc. as well as the long years of writing, revising, justifying Under the Volcano before it was vindicated by its publication and worldwide acceptance. The letters here are not only important in that they provide an autobiographical exposure, but also in that they implement and illuminate the book itself. His claim that it was ""so designed, counter-designed and interwelded that it could be read an indefinite number of times and still not have yielded all its meanings or its drama or its poetry"" is by now substantiated. The letters, arranged chronologically, are to Conrad Aiken whom he so admired, to his friend Downie Kirk, to relatives, but particularly to his publisher Albert Erskine who served him in much the same way that Perkins served Wolfe. Like the novel, they have both a personal intensity and a momentum of their own: they are to a large extent self-bound; and they are full of the despair (""Don't think I can go on. Where I am it is dark. Lost."") in which he lived and died.

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 1965
Publisher: Lippincott