I have been commissioned to contribute a chapter to a new book of centenary essays on Lowry edited by Bryan Biggs and published by Liverpool University Press (more on this later in the year) and so I have been gathering my thoughts. Arthur Calder-Marshall who knew him once wrote: "He was incapable of inventing anything. He couldn't take a character and/or a situation and elaborate it into a story...I think Lowry's deficiencies as a novelist were precisely the same as his virtues as a writer. I think he hadn't got any of the equipment that the ordinary secondary novelist has. I think telling a simple story, handling a situation, handling time – they provided problems for him which were absolutely insoluble unless he invented this peculiar form that he did..." Discuss, as they used to say on exam papers.
Actually, reading even some of Lowry's lesser known prose pieces in Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place (the words of an old Manx fisherman's hymn) one feels this is nonsense. Yes, he endlessly re-cycled and re-worked his own experiences, rather than making up fresh plots, but his prose is capacious, beautifully descriptive, rich. Who needs the whodunnit element when one can have writing like this? There is something haunting and compelling in particular about his writing from British Columbia where he and his wife lived on the beach in a squatter's shack from 1940 to 1954 in a threatened Eden. As Aldous Huxley once remarked, there are no rules for the novel, it only has to be interesting.