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Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Under the Volcano (1947)

by Malcolm Lowry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,716452,176 (3.8)171
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English (35)  French (5)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
The very first thing you notice about Under the Volcano is the luxurious writing. Lowry's use of language is like sinking in a deep bed of velvet. You fall in and keep falling until you can't extract yourself from the words very easily. Listening to this an audio made it a little more difficult because of the various languages spoken and the switching of points of views. I can understand written Spanish much better than the spoken language.
The very first chapter sets the stage for the following eleven chapters. It is November 2nd 1940 in Quauhnahuac, Mexico and two men are reminiscing about the British Consul, Geoffrey Firmin. Chapter two takes us back exactly one year and we follow Firmin's activities for one short day. Be prepared for a pathetic man's sad Day in the Life. His ex-wife has just returned to Mexico from an extended stay in America in an effort to reconcile with Firmin but ends up having a better time with his half brother. All the while the Consul is drinking, drinking, drinking. It is tragic how he argues with himself about that one last drink. There are mysterious dogs, runaway horses, bullfighting, and of course, the ever present volcanoes. Warning, but not a real spoiler alert: this doesn't end well for anyone. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Nov 11, 2015 |
In post-revolutionary Mexico the failed and severely alcoholic British consul struggles through his final day. Told in a modernist stream of consciousness style, with a flamboyant vocabulary (in several languages), the book creates a vivid picture of rural Mexico and of the Consul's difficulties in accepting that his marriage has failed and his career is effectively over. The book is unusually slow moving, in part because of the extravagant descriptions and detailed psychological explorations. ( )
  sjnorquist | Jan 23, 2015 |
I'm typically not a huge fan of stream of consciousness narratives, and while there are certainly times where the style irked me in this work, Lowry uses the technique to great effect when he writes from the perspective of the alcoholic Consul Geoffrey Firmin, who serves as the main character of this book. Lowry captures the feeling of being drunk in his prose far better than any other author I've come across, and a large portion of that is thanks to his mastery of the stream of consciousness technique combined with his ability have the narrative jump between settings and time without feeling like such jumps are mere storytelling conveniences. When the book occupies the perspective of the Consul it reaches its highest points, as the passages from the Consul's point of view are usually beautifully written and original in execution.

Unfortunately only about a third of the book or less is written from the Consul's point of view, the rest being written from the perspective of the Consul's wife, Yvonne, his brother, Hugh, and his former friend, Jacques. None of these characters allow Lowry to use the stream of consciousness style to its best effect, and additionally a couple of these characters seem out of place in the narrative as a whole. Jacques seems an especially large misstep: he only provides the perspective for the book's first chapter, which is an especially curious choice because he is more divorced from the action than any of the other characters and therefore can give only a semi-cogent introduction to the major characters and circumstances of the book. After the first chapter I expected Jacques to be a major, if not the main, character of the book, and I kept expecting the book to jump back to him, only to eventually realize that he is by far the least significant of the major characters. Hugh is also a character that only sometimes feels connected to the main story, since many pages of the chapters written from his perspective are dedicated to explaining Hugh's backstory, a backstory which is largely unrelated to the main action of the novel. He's an interesting character, but not one that felt essential to this book. Yvonne fairs better than the other two by a significant margin, in fact there's an argument to be made that she's the real main character of this novel. She's the one with the drive and the goal, and although the ending makes clear that this is the Consul's story, Yvonne has far more agency than her husband. Passages dealing with Yvonne's interaction with her alcoholic husband are also well done, and she always feels integral to the story.

Besides passages describing the Consul and his addiction to alcohol the highlights of this book were Lowry's descriptions of Mexico, which are vivid and beautiful. He also writes poignant individual images and scenes as well, in particular I'm sure that a scene of a one legged beggar giving a coin to a beggar with no legs will stick in my brain for many days to come. Overall, however, scenes describing Mexico and Mexican life comprise only a small portion of the book, and most of the rest of Lowry's writing is good but not spectacular. What really drags this book down for me is the fact that much of the action and a couple of the characters feel largely superfluous. If Lowry had written a tighter book focusing on the Consul and his wife in Mexico, it could have been great, but as it stands I only found this work to be pretty good. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for goodreads rating purposes. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
The last day of Geoffrey Firmin is recorded in meticulous detail here after an opening chapter which is set one year on from the events of the rest of the book. Firmin, ex HM consul in Mexico, is a lost soul, adrift in life as he drinks himself into a constant stupor. On this day, the Mexican Day of Death, and under the shadow of the great volcanoes Popacatapetl and Ixtaccihuatl, he wakes from a drastically heavy drinking session the night before to find that his estranged (actually divorced) wife has returned to give him one last chance. His brother Hugh is also in town on his travels through the world as a sophisticated journalist/writer involved in the seething pre-WWII politics of the region. The depiction of Geoffrey's drinking is convincing and reveals a vulnerability in what could otherwise be a wholly rebarbative character. Indeed, Lowry's use of free indirect style and stream of consciousness invites us into Firmin's memories in which there are some poignant and powerful explorations of his early life - being orphaned in India, taken into a family of artists (the Takersons) and, above all, his painful emotional reliance on Yvonne (his wife) and then alcohol. The long journeys into the history of the characters is extended to Yvonne herself (a former child Hollywood star) and Hugh (failed song writer and merchant seaman). Both of these narratives are compelling and artfully constructed around the events of the day. No-one but the reader seems aware of a mood of impending catastrophe and amidst the fine writing and emotionally charged shifts in register and style it is easy for this to get lost even to the reader. The unfocused drifting events of the day pass by but they seem charged with levels of symbolic significance that go unnoticed. There is a compellingly simple description of Yvonne and Hugh's horse ride round the neighbourhood while Geoffrey sobers up as well as an energetic and emotive description of Geoffrey as he wanders round his garden (a symbolic Eden from which he is curiously disconnected); this even includes a comical encounter with a bourgeois neighbour who recoils at Firmin's drunkenness. Indeed, it is the sheer amount of drink consumed that amazes this reader, at least - and not only by Geoffrey but by his wife and brother, too. The climax of the novel is shocking and tragic - suiting the absurdist and nihilistic spirit of its times, but thrown into relief by the spiritual and often Christian language of the narrator and the characters. This is a very powerful and rich book which in the telling of its tale discovers something beyond the emptiness and pain of its subject matter. ( )
1 vote elyreader | Jul 28, 2014 |
I've read subject matter that is a helluva lot emotionally tougher. But this was tough reading, worthy of intense concentration and worthy of a re-read, some day. Lowry's stream of consciousness makes Faulkner look easy. Unlike Faulkner's simple Southern folk, we're dealing with a chronically drunk intellectual's rambling thoughts. The Joycean plot (all taking place on La dia de los muertos) is crammed in here and there, and in retrospect, was fairly easy to follow. ( )
  Sandydog1 | Feb 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (33 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Malcolm Lowryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pedrolo, Manuel deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spender, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vandenbergh, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.

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.
"A little self-knowledge is a dangerous thing."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.

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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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