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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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2,497None2,429 (3.8)125
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English (30)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
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 |
I hate to give one star to a man's life's work, especially one so praised, but this book is almost completely unreadable. One of the goals of a novel is to communicate with the reader, and in this it fails utterly, unless you happen to have the author's particular obsessions and frames of reference. Without a knowledge of Baudelaire and Goethe and Shakespeare and cabbalah and goodness-knows-what-else, you're going to be very lost. If the novel had a discernable plot with some sort of theme or message, perhaps one would be justified in finding out all those things and then reading through it, but the novel doesn't reward you with those things EITHER. Instead we get a man who could save himself but won't, and his co-dependent ex-wife who is re-creating her childhood trauma of having her alcoholic father die on her. And everybody dies, the end. ( )
  marti.booker | Dec 2, 2013 |
Lowry could not perform the vital surgery of separating himself from his characters. He suspected at times that he was not a writer so much as being written, and with panic he realized that self-identity was as elusive as ever.

-Conrad Knickerbocker

You could state this novel was amazing. You could name it false. You could call this novel a giant of Modernism. You could pass it off as the rambling obscurities of a overeducated white guy with too much money in pocket and too lengthy a time on his hands, enough of each to not only allow for lazy alcoholism but to also think it worthy of a book. You could wonder at the explications of historical context or frown at it for being too 'political', depending on whether your methodologies for coping with reality lie in grasping explication or willful ignorance.

I thought to compose an ode to this thin-skinned and oh so brave piece of work, one that considered 'vital' the need to cloak oneself in shrouds of objective cleverness writing from the scheme of rote, but recognized the conventions as being too limited. Poetry it is, in the attention it pays to rhythm of word and the homage it pays to the feeling provoking it, all those words circling and circling and never quite circumventing the fundamental issue of conveying the state of a human being in full with mere paper and pen. But an ode? That implies form, and function, and the worst sort of dignified pride, all prettied up above and so horridly stunted down below. So I am sticking with prose, where there is at least more room to breath and stretch and thrust into realms not yet choked with nitpicking banalities.

If history draws a line in the sand and says to you, congratulations, you won, is it better to take your winnings and hightail it back to the stolid world of living a normal life, or fumble one's way across the line in a horrifically misguided effort to help? Neither direction will guarantee a sustained sense of worthwhile living without sustained effort, and the shame of that effort is often enough to kill. Lucky for you, there are ways to run, and keep on running, deep into the fuming dark of drink after drink which renders mind and reality palatable to each other, so long as you keep on coming back.

Some bring back some packets of papers from these trials. Some luck out through sheer sense of language and liking for certain literature and pass through the fires of public perception with a penchant for labeling things as 'trivial'. Lowry was right in feeling his will to write translated into being written, and yet he went on taking risks to the contrary of the sensibilities of his fellows. Today, he is beloved of the certain echelons of readers and poses a difficult challenge to those not yet in the 'know', or on the contrary is passed off as the pretentious tragicomedy of an unlikeable man with no real reason to be moping around besides his pandering at an 'existential crisis'.

Meantime do you see me as still working on the book, still trying to answer such questions as: Is there any ultimate reality, external, conscious and ever-present etc. etc. that can be realised by any such means that may be acceptable to all creeds and religions and suitable to all climes and countries? Or do you find me between Mercy and Understanding, between Chesed and Binah (but still at Chesed)—my equilibrium, and equilibrium is all, precarious—balancing, teetering over the awful unbridgeable void...Though it is perhaps a good idea under the circumstances to pretend at least to be proceeding with one's great work on "Secret Knowledge," then one can always say when it never comes out that the title explains this deficiency.

There's something bloodcurdling about the inexorable crimes of history and the question posed in every era of how one is to 'do one's part'. For what constitutes a 'crime', and what is a suitable 'part', and just how long is one supposed to wait around for a situation to arise where it is not only 'right' to act, but 'proper' in motivation and 'vital' in context and anything but 'trivial'?

Lowry wrote what he knew in order to bring his self to a final resolution. Somehow, it was decided that his results were worthy of surviving in the hallowed halls of literature, for all his half-handed attempts to decry atrocities and feckless graspings at a life worth being sober for. Someone, somewhere, decided that for whatever reason, this work for all its ivory tower references and obtuse characterizations was important to merit a place in the future.

Pity the poor fool with time enough to think on the scope of humanity, and cannot bear the weight without the solace of addiction or the finality of death. They wander outside the range of 'conventional' society, and we can only acknowledge their presence and hope that that they will return. And if they bring something back that we recognize as part and parcel of our own nobly fallible states of life, ensuring a record of that forlorn mess of feeling that so many unknowingly struggle in with every bit of mindless work and drink and frivolity, all the better. For one is always alone in composing a how-to guide for their lot in life, and while criticism is useful, condemnation wallows in a pit of aborted failings.

You'll do yourself no favors in claiming to be better than it all, no matter how loud and long you scoff and bleat. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Oct 28, 2013 |
Astonishing. One of the most extraordinary novels I've read in years. Neither an easy read nor redemptive in any particular sense of the word, Under the Volcano is nevertheless a work of art that will haunt you long after finishing it. It's no wonder that it has had a reputation as a 'writer's book' – one that is most appreciated by those who best understand how hard it is to make something like this work.

Under the Volcano is a tightly-focused narrative that, after being framed as a flashback from a year later by a friend of the main character, covers less than 24 hours in the lives of its principals. Incredibly, it manages to imply and evoke their lives leading up to this day, and the state of the world during their lifetimes, leaving you feeling as if you've read their complete histories before their day is up. The central character, and the fulcrum for everything that happens, is Geoffrey Firmin, often referred to as 'The Consul.' He is in fact the former British Consul to a central-Mexican town near the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, but now an ex-pat who refuses to go home as World War II is busy getting underway. The novel follows the Consul's alcoholic sprint towards his doom, and watching him come to pieces, and the shrapnel damage it causes to those closest to him, is terrifying. The final hundred pages feel like an out-of-control downhill run through a lava field – and in spite of being able to see the brick wall waiting at the end of the run, there's nothing you can do to slow down and prepare. Because of the framing at the book's opening, you can see the brick wall all the way, but you are shocked nonetheless when you run into it.

It's hard to find redemption in addiction and alcoholism, and none at all is provided by Lowry – regardless, it now has a place on my 'all-time' list of novels. ( )
3 vote buffalopoet | Aug 27, 2013 |
I know I once said that I could listen to John Lee read the phone book. Although I'm not saying that listening to his narration of Under the Volcano is the same as listening to a recitation of a directory listing, I think I understood and enjoyed this book about the same amount. The story is the final day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico. The day is the holiday, the Day of the Dead, and Geoffrey's ex-wife, Yvonne, has returned to Mexico to try to renew their marriage. But there are skeletons in the closet that are revealed - past infidelities and broken promises, not to mention the fact that Geoffrey is a drunk who is in complete denial that he has a problem with alcohol. This seems like the type of book I would love, but much of the book is a stream of consciousness rambling of a man in a drunken stupor. Although I really did not understand this book, the writing is well done and I definitely had glimpses of the turmoil in Geoffrey and Yvonne's life. I might give this book another shot, maybe in print. There were many symbols and mythological references that I did not understand. There are also many phrases (including the very last sentences of the book) that are in Spanish and maybe in print I could figure it out. In audio, I was a bit lost. Thank goodness for John Lee's beautiful voice - I stuck through the whole book. Maybe another time. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
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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.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:42 -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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