I read Under the Volcano, and have a read a number of his other works. Under The Volcano is his best novel. Lowry fought alcoholism much of his adult life and it is reflected in his writings including Ultramarine. This is his first novel published in 1933. This novel is short, just 186 pages, and it is good, original, and entertaining for lovers of literature, but not as good as some of his other works. If you like Lowry, I recommend the collection of short stories Hear Us O Lord From Heaven They Dwelling Place.
The story comes from Lowry's own time at sea before university. The novel lacks symmetry and the coherent structure of a conventional novel - and that is the creative part. Unexpected things take place. The story involves a young man of 19, Dana Hilliot, working on a freighter ship in Asia. It is part narrative by Dana and part third person narrative, almost stream of consciousness: we are told the events in and around the sea voyage.
On board he is lost in time, and this sets the mood:
"But the sun hurt his eyes. Lowering his head, he tried to calculate how long it had been there. Today, or was it yesterday? Two days ago. All the days were the same. The engine hammered out the same stroke, same beat, as yesterday. The forecastle was no lighter, no darker, than yesterday. Today, or is it yesterday?"
Lowry fills the pages with anecdotes about sailors' lives and the characters that he meets. His shipmates are from Norway, England, Greece, Spain, and America. When they stop at a port, the others seek pleasures but he often stays on the ship, often drinks heavily and constantly thinks of his sweetheart, Janet, who is back in England.
He wants to be accepted as a regular crew member, not as a young man from well off family seeking adventure.
The story takes unexpected turns as Dana lives on board and then visits ports along the passage, often drunk, confused, or bored, but not as confused as the character in Lowry's later novella Lunar Caustic, set in a mental hospital.