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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
2,960501,937 (3.82)192
  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 192 mentions

English (40)  French (5)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All (50)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)

“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.

( )
  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 vividly brought to life, 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. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jan 28, 2017 |
I suspect I might like this more with a second reading. As it is, the prose is dense, often difficult to unpack, but without the jouissance of a text like Ulysses. The conclusion is beautifully rendered, though. I liked that the book granted its protagonist no clemency from his journey of self-destruction. I also thought that the geopolitical backdrop of the novel--the run-up to WWII, the Spanish Civil War--saved it from an otherwise heavy-handed solipsism. ( )
1 vote jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
This one was frustrating because it slips the surly bonds of earth and touches the face of god--the god of joy and the god of pathos, be they the same or different gods, and also Tezcatlipoca the Smoking Mirror and more other gods than you want me to list at this time--routinely, almost casually, but only when it's in that sweet spot where the light strikes the mirror just right and it bursts out of mere smoke and into purest mystic flame. Incredible, virtuoso writing, eliciting that sense of eternal surprised delight that to my mind must be what we mean by oneness with all things.

But that never lasts more than oh a dozen magnificent, munificent pages at a time, and then it weebles and you're back amongst the upper middle class English twits being impressive (but only with the collusion of the author) in the colonies (what's that? Mexico was never a British colony? Don't be a pedant, darling), whether it's showing their more developed moral selves when they find a dead native in the road and the other natives are busy stealing his wallet, or whether it's jumping into the middle of a bullfight to show the vain, cowardly natives how it's done, casually flashing the Anglo-Saxon steel that one is sure oh so sure still lies on the level of tribal memory beneath one's degraded modern exterior. Or it wobbles and suddenly nobody's keeping it heavily light anymore, nobody's even keeping it together anymore, the banter's gone out and everyone's all lachrymose and oh lord save me from alcoholic British melodrama.

So anyway, you can see why they drink. ( )
2 vote MeditationesMartini | Jan 8, 2017 |
Great writing no doubt, but a chore to get through. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
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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
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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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