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Under the Volcano (1947)

by Malcolm Lowry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,017782,468 (3.82)231
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.… (more)
  1. 20
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    mArC0: Self-destruction through alcohol and denial; Write what you know: both protagonists destroy themselves though alcohol and denial.
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    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.
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    WSB7: Strong perspectival imagery overhanging(pursuing?)a doomed hero.
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» See also 231 mentions

English (63)  French (6)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (76)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
The majority of this book takes place on a single day, Dia de Los Muertos, 1938, in the lives of three people in a mountainside tourist town in Mexico. Geoffrey Firmin, the former British Consul of the locale and often referred to as simply the Consul, is an intellectual, a writer, a disgraced WWI war hero and a complete alcoholic. His young ex-wife, Yvonne, left Geoffrey a year ago but has surprisingly returned to convince him to pack up and start a new life together. Staying with Geoffrey is his younger half-brother, Hugh, a journalist who rather romantically plans to go to Spain to support the rebels in the Spanish Civil War.

During their day together, Geoffrey is unwilling/unable to show his love for Yvonne, and she spends most of her time with Hugh. Geoffrey is a part of their activities, but separate, constantly drinking or thinking about drinking. The three go on a bus trip to take in a rodeo in a nearby village, but Geoffrey is really only along for a chance to escape to his favorite bar and drink mescal, the spirit he believes awakens his consciousness and realizes will be the end of him.

As the trio physically descend the mountain, they get progressively closer to a tragic ending involving miscommunication, misunderstanding, and encounters with the evil side of humanity.

That's the basic plot, but there's so much more to this book. It's crammed with hundreds of references to allegories and myth, and references to the Bible, the Inferno, Faust, silent cinema. There are endless descriptive passages of the landscape and its history, streams of consciousness (often drunken rambling), the back stories of the characters and their past interactions, and the global state of affairs of a world about to enter WWII. The author, a famous alcoholic himself, spent ten years writing and rewriting Under the Volcano to so fill it with meaning, it would require numerous re-readings to fully absorb his vision.

Ultimately, it's a story of a man who self isolates to deal with reality and realizes too late what he has lost. Many classic novels are famously called "difficult," but this one really does take resolve if you plan to tackle it. The ending is truly great, it's just a chore to get there. ( )
  RobertOK | Nov 30, 2021 |
What is man but a little soul holding up a corpse.

This book does not make a good first impression. It gives away the ending right away, it has a lot of untranslated text, and broken english and its sentences are incredibly involved.

Sr. Bustamente was prepared to be sorry for the Consul even as a spider, sorry in his heart for the poor lonely dispossessed trembling soul that had sat drinking here night after night, abandoned by his wife (though she came back, M. Laruelle almost cried aloud, that was the extraordinary thing, she came back!) and possibly, remembering the socks, even by his country, and wandering hatless and desconsolado and beside himself around the town pursued by other spiders who, without his ever being quite certain of it, a man in dark glasses he took to be a loafer here, a man lounging on the other side of the road he thought was a peon there, a bald boy with earrings swinging madly on a creaking hammock there, guarded every street and alley entrance, which even a Mexican would no longer believe (because it was not true, M.Laruelle said) but which was still quite possible, as Sr.Bustamente’s father would have assured him, let him start something and find out, just as his father would have assured him that he, M. Laruelle, could not cross the border in a cattle truck, say, without “their” knowing it in Mexico City before he arrived and having already decided what “they” were going to do about it.

Its also just a sort of love story, it reminded me a bit of the Great Gatsby (and i HATED the Great Gatsby). Except set in 1938-39 mexico instead of the 1920s.

However, the style is what saves it, its almost stream-of-conciousness and really works. It also gives multiple perspectives and creates very detailed characters.
The chapters are quite long but i felt compelled to read one entirely without pausing as you really don’t want to interrupt the flow.

A few other minor issues, after the first chapter i gave up googling translations, so unless i could figure out things by guess work i just had to ignore it. Again stopping to look something up would kill the flow.
The female character has some very cliche daddy-issues but at least they don’t play too big a role.
The depiction of alcoholism is also a little picturesque for a modern audience although on the other hand it reminded me of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in places :lol .
Oh.. yes one other thing, there are a lot of background conversations, where you keep hearing fragments of talk and a lot of that doesn’t really seem to make much sense or mean much.

Anyway, this works entirely on the basis of its writing and the writing really grew on me so... ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
The novel is historical and somehow interesting as well and it’s too long. ( )
  alishkakhan | Oct 18, 2021 |
This novel has already been anointed by knowledgeable reviewers to be a “masterpiece” and “one of the greatest novels of the 20th century” and I’m not literary enough to dispute their judgments.

The book was a challenge for me. It would be difficult to read it in one sitting, but that would probably be a better approach than reading it over three weeks, like I did. I’m visiting in London right now and reading this book for me was like to trying to navigate through these streets. You find the street you are looking for and start following it, enjoying the sights and the next thing you know, the street name is changed and you have no clue where you are.

There are countless reviews of this book that more aptly summarize it so I won’t bother. As a writer, I’m in awe of Lowry’s ability to paint a scene with an incredible level of detail. As we make this day long journey it is as if the narrators have sensory cameras perched on their shoulders. We see, hear, feel, smell everything. It’s at times overwhelming.

A tragic tale of a life disintegrating.
( )
  LenJoy | Mar 14, 2021 |
A long read - every page full of words, thoughts, emotion, places and people. Not sure if this is stream of conciousness or a long prose poem. The single day of Geoffrey Firmin has taken me nearly a month to read but the writing is so vivid and the content so enthralling I never lost track of where we were. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jan 23, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lowry, Malcolmprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bergsma, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pedrolo, Manuel deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spender, StephenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vandenbergh, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
LE GUSTA ESTE JARDIN
QUE ES SUYO?
EVITE QUE SUS HIJOS LO DESTRUYAN!
(finale)
Wonders are many and none is more wonderful than man; the power that crosses the white sea, driven by the stormy south-wind making path under surges that threaten to engulf him; and Earth, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, unwearied, doth he wear, turning the soil with the offspring of horses, as the ploughs go to and from from year to year.
And the light-hearted race of birds, and the tribes of savage beasts, and the sea-brood of the deep, he snares in the meshes of his woven toils, he leads captive, man excellent i wit. And he masters by his arts the beast whose lair is in the wilds, who roams the hills; he tames the horse of shaggy mane he puts the yoke upon its neck he tames the tireless mountain bull.
And speech, and wind-swift thought, and all the moods that mould a state, hath he taught himself; and how to flee the arrows of the frost when it is hard lodging under the clear sky, and the arrows of the rushing rain; yes, he hath resources for all; without resource he meets nothing that must come; only against Death shall he call for aid in vain; but from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes.

SOPHOCLES--Antigone
Now I bless the condition of the dog and toad, yea, gladly would i have been in the condition of the dog or horse for I knew they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of Hell or Sin as mine was like to do. Nay and though I saw this, felt this, and was broken to pieces with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that I could not find with all my soul that I did desire deliverance.

JOHN BUNYAN--Grace Abounding for the Chief of Sinners
Wer immer strebend sich bemuht, den konnen wir erlosen.
Whosoever unceasingly strives upward . . . him can we save.

GOETHE
Dedication
To Margerie, my wife
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."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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