Saturday, 11 December 2010

William C. Bryson: Malcolm Lowry, 11 Years Dead, Is Pawing Through the Ashes of His One Great Work 17/12/68

I first read Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano on the all-night train trip from Central Mexico to the U.S. border at Nuevo Laredo. The trip, particularly in the second class compartment, easily beats a coast-to-coast Greyhound for discomfort. Mexican women with three children and a rooster buy one ticket, and then, once on the train, let their charges squirm their way over into the seat that you, God damn it, paid full fare for.

At every station, sixty people from your overcrowded car elbow their way off, and another seventy push in from the station to get on. Towards the end of the trip, as your back begins to stick to the disintegrating leather of the old upright seats, the sunrise lights up the outskirts of the miserable border town of Nuevo Laredo, sweltering colorlessly in the semi-desert of Northern Mexico.

I had been putting off reading Lowry's novel, partly because it was "about Mexico," and could be found prominently displayed on the paperback racks in all the Sanborn's in Mexico City. And, too, there was something irksomely cultish about the Lowry fans I had met. They talked of Malcolm and Margerie, rather than Lowry and his wife. They had visited all the places in the book. Hadn't Malcolm got that one just right, and now I know exactly how he felt, and drunk too! even though Lowry had lived in Mexico thirty years ago when nothing could possibly have been the same, when the chasm between the tourist and the environment must have been immensely easier to bridge.
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