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Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
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Under the Volcano (1947)

by Malcolm Lowry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,030521,875 (3.83)200
  1. 20
    Post Office by Charles Bukowski (mArC0)
    mArC0: Self-destruction through alcohol and denial; Write what you know: both protagonists destroy themselves though alcohol and denial.
  2. 00
    A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley (laura.aviva)
    laura.aviva: Both have incredible writing and often require a dictionary, which happens to be my favorite kind of book. Alcoholic outsiders hell bent on isolating themselves from all that they hold dear. Riveting.
  3. 00
    Klingsor's Last Summer by Hermann Hesse (chrisharpe)
  4. 00
    The Blind Owl by Ṣādiq Hidāyat (chrisharpe)
  5. 22
    Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (chrisharpe)
  6. 01
    Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (WSB7)
    WSB7: Strong perspectival imagery overhanging(pursuing?)a doomed hero.
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» See also 200 mentions

English (42)  French (5)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All (52)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
3.5* for the book itself

I really liked John Lee's narration but found this book was very difficult for me to process in audio form. The text is often stream-of-conscience style and jumps about & rambles. Plus there's a fair amount of Spanish since it is set in Mexico.

I can see why this is considered a masterpiece and I may end up changing my rating. However my initial reaction was that it was evocative but of a distasteful experience. Plus, I wished that there was a short section at the end tying back to the beginning with Jacques Laruelle. ( )
  leslie.98 | Sep 15, 2017 |
“Their house was dying, only an agony went there now.”

—Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Alternately frustrating and beautiful. Discursive and illuminating. Drunk and sober. Efflorescent and dissolving. Ascetic and dissipated. This book can only be described by how I understand it in opposites. I’d imagine it polarized readers upon its release as much as it variably affected the different personalities within myself. Its challenging linguistic forays forced me to learn the correct pronunciations of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl, translate Spanish and German passages, brush up on mythology and biblical parables—all while the narrative is intercut with lines from menus, advertisements and multiple inebriated bursts of dialogue. It could be confusing, it is confusing, but then the protagonist is a “lucid drunk” (to steal an idea from Stephen Spender’s brilliant introduction). Though moments may have been frustrating and downright annoying, there are blocks of this text that will stick with me forever, images seared into memory, ideas that will most likely never be drowned in a decade of reading more straightforward fiction. The local drunk who stinks, needs to shave and showers your face in spit while gesticulating—sometimes that dude sees something the rest of us don’t and he’s got something worth listening to.

Sometimes. I mean, he is living between a pair of goddamn volcanoes, after all. ( )
2 vote ToddSherman | Aug 24, 2017 |
This is quite a challenging book – for a number of reasons, two of them being a little similar. Lowry has a tendency to tell things backwards – there’s no ready explanation of major areas such as the state of the relationships between the main characters. The reader has to work out gradually how things came to stand as they do at the start of the book. In smaller ways as well Lowry leaves the reader dangling. Why is Laruelle astonished to be given a book? It takes a couple of pages to find out that he had lost it. Similarly, Lowry has a habit of separating subject and verb so that the reader has to hold in their head large parts of a sentence until the main clause appears – and sometime it’s the other way round – a half page sentence might end with the subject of it all. I know a lot of people really love Lowry’s style but I can’t work out why. Perhaps they have more retentive minds than I do but I still am not sure how these complex sentences are more appealing than clearer ones. Of course, this is a book about people besotted by drink so clear thinking would perhaps not be appropriate.

I found it frustrating to have characters thinking about how they could say the right thing, something soothing to help mend a relationship but how they then say something quite damaging, but then again this book is about destruction but to me it adds to the joyless nature of this labyrinthine work.

I have read a number of articles praising the book and comparing Lowry with Joyce. What I haven’t found, though is any analysis which shows just how effective Lowry was in his style. ( )
  evening | Jul 26, 2017 |

“Far above him a few white clouds were racing windily after a pale gibbous moon. Drink all morning, they said to him, drink all day. This is life!”
― Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Don't be fooled by the usual blurb on this novel telling you the story is about a British consul and his wife, his half-brother and his childhood friend. They are but bit players. This is a novel where the main character is liquor and how liquor turns human blood and the nerves of the human nervous system into trillions of tiny colorful skulls, each skull with a mouthful of shinning white teeth chewing up the host human and, in turn, his relations with everything and everybody. Most appropriately, Malcolm Lowry set his novel in Mexico during the Day of the Dead.

“In the bathroom the Consul became aware he still had with him half a glass of slightly flat beer; his hand was fairly steady, but numbed holding the glass, he drank cautiously, carefully postponing the problem soon to be raised by its emptiness.” The Consul (there is a tincture of humor in the narrator continually referring to him by his official title) is an alcoholic, thus, his one central problem is the inevitable empty glass - all those legions of tiny colorful skulls need alcohol to maintain their bright red, blue, green, yellow, black, orange, white colors so they can keep their sharp teeth chomping.

The Consul speaks, “I am too sober. I have lost my familiars, my guardian angels. I am straightening out,” he added, sitting down again opposite the strychnine bottle with his glass. “In a sense what happened was a sign of my fidelity, my loyalty; any other man would have spent this last year in a very different manner. At least I have no disease,” he cried in his heart, the cry seeming to end on a somewhat doubtful note, however. “And perhaps it’s fortunate I’ve had some whiskey since alcohol is an aphrodisiac too. One must never forget either that alcohol is a food.”

Famous last words for an alcoholic: “It’s fortunate I’ve had some whiskey” - not only fortunate, but completely necessary, thus, my observation, the real main character in this Malcolm Lowry novel is liquor. All of the alcoholics I’ve had the misfortune to come into contact with (nobody in my immediate family, thank goodness) have likewise surrendered their blood, vital organs and nervous system to those chomping skulls. Every day is the Day of the Dead around the globe for millions of alcoholics drinking under their personal volcano.

A reader of Lowry’s novel will find enough references, both direct and indirect, to Dante, Faust and Lost Eden as well as Christ, Don Quixote and Oedipus, but, from my reading, all of these allusions and suggestions, signs and symbols, codes and enigmas, are filtered through the alembic of Consul Geoffrey Firmin’s liquor glass, bestowing a particular flair to the well-worn citation “through a glass darkly,” words depicting our less than omniscient manner of seeing and understanding.

To conclude on an up note, one of my favorite scenes is when Geoffrey, his former wife Yvonne and his half-brother Hugh attend a bullfight. Hugh jumps in the arena. We read:

“It was Hugh. Leaving his coat behind he had jumped from the scaffolding into the arena and was now running in the direction of the bull from which, perhaps in jest, or because they mistook him for the scheduled rider, the ropes were being whipped as by magic, Yvonne stood up: the Consul came to his feet beside her.
“Good Christ, the bloody fool!”
The second bull, no indifferent as might have been supposed to the removal of the ropes, and perplexed by the confused uproar that greeted his rider’s arrival, had clambered up bellowing; Hugh was astride him and already cake-walking crazily in the middle of the ring.
“God damn the stupid ass!” the Consul said.

A nearly 400-page novel and, for me, that was the up note, since, when it comes to alcoholics and alcoholism, there is really very little of what could be considered ‘up’; quite to the contrary, it is either down or very far down or all the way down.

( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
This is a dark, introverted, burning sun of a novel, spanning the final day of drinking of a former British Consul to a small Mexican city. It artistically recreates the experience of the alcoholic, the mood, the frenzy, the shabiness of it, the self-deception, his psychology. It is partly autobiographical (not the ending), incorporating much of Lowry's life and his experiences into those of his characters. The atmosphere and culture of the Mexican town is rendered in all its wonderful character, together with its inhabitants and goings-on in the late nineteen 30s. Plotwise, it is a tale of love and longing, of self-destruction, and the subtleties of relationships, however like many great literary works it is not the plot that makes this work great. It is the moods that are produced, the way that words are used to invoke reality, the symbolism and philosophical musings, and these put together which produce the whole encompassing psychological effect. As a novel this feels like it is a very complete work, from beginning to end. It does not leave the reader wanting a more fitting ending, or hanging for something else.
This is one of the best novels I have read in a long time, but it is not one that everyone would enjoy. ( )
1 vote P_S_Patrick | Jan 28, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (33 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Malcolm Lowryprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pedrolo, Manuel deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spender, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vandenbergh, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Molte sono le meraviglie ma nulla è più portentoso dell'uomo.
Egli attraverso il mare biancheggiante, sfidando il tempestoso Noto,
si spinge, passando sotto i marosi che gli spalancano intorno abissi;
e la suprema delle divinità, Gea
immortale, instancabile, affatica
solcandola su e giù d'anno in anno con gli aratri, rivoltandola con la razza equina.

E dei volubili uccelli la schiatta cattura e fa sua preda
e delle bestie selvatiche le razze e la natante generazione del mare
con maglie di reti intessute,
l'uomo scaltro;
e doma con artifizi l'agreste
montana fiera, e il giubato
cavallo affrena chiudendogli il collo in un giogo, e il toro delle montagne infaticabile.

E il linguaggio e il pensiero emulo del vento ed a reggersi in città
apprese da sé; e degli inospitali
geli all'aperto e
delle moleste piogge a ripararsi dalle ingiurie,
l'uomo che esce da tutto. Imbarazzato, non va incontro a nessun
avvenire. Ade solo
non troverà modo di scansare:
ma a malattie senza scampo seppe escogitare rimedio.

SOFOCLE, Antigone
traduzione di Camillo Sbarbaro
Benedissi dunque la condizione del cane e del rospo. Sì, con gioia avrei
accettato d'essere cane o cavallo, poi che sapevo che essi non hanno
un'anima che - come, forse, la mia - possa precipitare nell'abisso pe-
renne dell'Inferno e del Peccato. Sì, e prevedendo, presentendo questo
abisso, ad aumentare ancora il mio affanno era l'impossibilità di trovare
quella liberazione, cui tutta l'anima mi aspirava.

JOHN BUNYAN, Grazia abbondante per il Re dei Peccatori
Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen.
Colui che sempre si sforza e cerca, noi lo possiamo salvare.

GOETHE
LE GUSTA ESTE JARDIN
QUE ES SUYO?
EVITE QUE SUS HIJOS LO DESTRUYAN!
(finale)
Dedication
A Margerie, mia moglie
First words
Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus.
Quotations
"A little self-knowledge is a dangerous thing."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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None

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Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061120154, Paperback)

Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul, has come to Quauhnahuac, Mexico. His debilitating malaise is drinking, an activity that has overshadowed his life. On the most fateful day of the consul's life—the Day of the Dead, 1938—his wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relationship to the brink of collapse. She is determined to rescue Firmin and their failing marriage, but her mission is further complicated by the presence of Hugh, the consul's half brother, and Jacques, a childhood friend. The events of this one significant day unfold against an unforgettable backdrop of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.

Under the Volcano remains one of literature's most powerful and lyrical statements on the human condition, and a brilliant portrayal of one man's constant struggle against the elemental forces that threaten to destroy him.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:36 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Set in Mexico on the eve of WWII, the story tells of a man in extremis, an alcoholic consul bursting with regret, longing, resentment and remorse, whose climactic moment rapidly approaches..."---Editorial review from www.amazon.com.

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