The novel that Malcolm Lowry thought burnt to a crisp

P19_Hofmann_1143061hMichael Hofmann at the Times Literary Supplement:

Who ever thought they would one day be able to read Malcolm Lowry’s fabled novel of the 1930s and 40s, In Ballast to the White Sea? Lord knows, I didn’t. The manuscript was the principal casualty of a fire on June 7, 1944 that destroyed the Lowrys’ beach shack outside Vancouver (from which the endlessly revised and near-perfect Under the Volcano was mercifully retrieved), and it was long supposed that all that was left of it were a few perfectly round pieces of charred typescript – like paper portholes – some of them oddly, but inescapably for the accident- and coincidence-obsessed Lowry (“The Element Follows You Around, Sir”), on the subject of fire. That, and the title.

It turns out, however, that in an access of prudence, Lowry had deposited the carbon of an early version of In Ballast in New York City in 1936 (where it had already done the rounds of publishers), with the mother of Jan Gabrial, his first wife, before setting off with Gabrial for Mexico. Mexico did for the marriage, and very nearly for Lowry as well, but it gave him the germ of Under the Volcano (originally a highly technical short story, about a Consul and his daughter witnessing a murder on a Mexican bus); in the end, after twenty months, he retreated to Los Angeles, met and married his second wife, Margerie Bonner, and struck north for Canada, where the couple lived on next to no money in conditions of extreme simplicity. There he continued to work on Under the Volcano and In Ballast pretty much in tandem.

more here.