Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

A Darkness That Murmured: Essays on Malcolm Lowry and the Twentieth Century

by Frederick Asals and Paul Tiessen, eds.

Schools of criticism create their own canons, elevating certain texts, discarding others. Yet some works – Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is one of them – lend themselves readily to all critical approaches. Similarly, Lowry finds a place in the literary traditions of several nations. Born and educated in England, he lived and wrote for a third of his short life in Canada, and found inspiration for his work in Mexico. Since his untimely death in 1957, Lowry’s life and work have excited continual interest.

The 17 essays in this well-organized volume, edited by scholars at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Toronto, reflect the diversity of current approaches to Lowry. They are linked by a postmodern preoccupation with the writer’s subjectivity, the transgression of sexual and gender roles, and the subversion of traditional categories. They range from predictable essays on Under the Volcano to personal memoirs by friends and a former wife, analysis of Sharon Thesen’s “Confabulations: Poems for Malcolm Lowry,” and readings of Lowry’s work alongside that of James Joyce and Don DeLillo.

The memoirs are generally the weakest part of this collection, with the exception of two excellent semi-biographical essays by UBC’s Sherill Grace, editor of a two-volume collection of Lowry’s letters. In the opening essay, she examines three important new letters recently made available by Lowry’s brother. These illuminate the sparsely documented period of Lowry’s boarding school and university days. In the volume’s final essay, Grace undertakes a brilliant psychoanalytic investigation of Lowry’s tortured creative process. Her focus on Lowry’s anxieties and difficulties in completing anything after Under the Volcano allows her to synthesize the topics raised in the foregoing essays.