. . . The sky was blue again overhead as they went down into Tomalín; dark clouds still gathered behind Popocatepetl, their purple masses shot through with the bright late sunlight, that fell too on another little silver lake glittering cool, fresh, and inviting before them, Yvonne had never seen on the way, nor remembered.
“The Bishop of Tasmania,” the Consul was saying, “or somebody dying of thirst in the Tasmanian desert, had a similar experience. The distant prospect of Cradle Mountain had consoled him a while, and then he saw this water . . . Unfortunately it turned out to be sunlight blazing on myriads of broken bottles.”
The lake was a broken greenhouse roof belonging to El Jardín Xicotancatl: only weeds lived in the greenhouse.
It’s possible that I should not be reading Malcolm Lowry, that he’s only ruining me for good writing that is also readable–but I can’t help it. The dude’s prose blows my mind. His main character, the Consul, is an obsessively literate roaring alcoholic who drinks in order to pretend to be sober. And the language supports that perfectly, jumping seamlessly, with no signposts, between now, five minutes ago, twenty years ago, and last night, between hallucination and cool rationality, paranoia, selfishness and love.
Look at the first sentence above: who writes like that? Each of the last three clauses changes the focus of the sentence, forces me to reevaluate what I thought to be its structure. What fell on the silver lake? Dark clouds–no, late sunlight. What had Yvonne never seen? The lake. So I get the image the sentence conveys only in these stuttering chunks, each of which I consume whole before being introduced to the next. And I’ve read the sentence through three times before I get it: the apocalyptic scene, and below it, this promising lake, hopeful, that has appeared out of nowhere. And only then can I read on to see revealed that this lake is just a delusion. The structure actually supports the effect, builds it up such that we get the tangible feeling of being inside someone who believes in something beautiful that can never come true. Which is exactly where we are: inside the Consul’s estranged but still loving ex-wife, who has convinced herself she can pull him away from his drinkng and together they can find some isolate paradise in which to live out the rest of their lives.
The Consul may be the first real tragic figure I have encountered in a very long time. The last one I can think of with as much depth is Raskolnikov.
The problem, though, with my reading Malcolm Lowry, is that inevitably I am going to try to write like him. And wouldn’t it be nice if I had the capacity to do so? And maybe someday I will, but not now, and as I’ve learned from trying to write like Borges, and like Dostoevsky, very little actually comes of it, and I just end up banging my head on my desk and wondering why I’ve sat here for four hours and done nothing but rewrite one paragraph eleven times. And even if I do manage it, who’s going to want to read it? Nobody I know. Or else maybe you’d have heard of Malcolm Lowry before this, wouldn’t you think?
Also, bad career model. Spend 14 years failing to sell your masterpiece, then get no attention when you do. Drink yourself to death. Woo.
Bent double, groaning with the weight, an old lame Indian was carrying on his back, by means of a strap looped over his forehead, another poor Indian, yet older and more decrepit than himself. He carried the older man and his crutches, trembling in every limb under this weight of the past, he carried both their burdens.
They all stood watching the Indian as he disappeared with the old man round a bend of the road, into the evening, shuffling through the grey white dust in his poor sandals . . .