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Alternative cover edition ISBN10 0140017321 ISBN13 9780140017328It is the Day of Death and a fiesta is in full swing In the shadow of Popocatepetl ragged children beg coins to buy skulls made of chocolateand the ugly pariah dogs roam the streets Geoffrey Firmin HM ex consul is drowning himself in liquor and mescal while his ex wife and half brother look on powerless to help him As the day wears on it becomes apparent that Geoffrey must die It is his only escape from a world he cannot understand


10 thoughts on “Under the Volcano

  1. says:

    Purchase a large bottle of tequila and start walking from Ernest Hemingway's house to Vladimir Nabokov's house As you're walking take a drink for the sake of squandered love Then take one for isolation Take one drink for war and two for peace Take one for world weariness Take one for betrayal Take a big one for fear Take a bigger one for the allure of death Take one for a chasm opened between lovers Take one for connections that span oceans continents Take one for filthy homeless dogs And take one long drink just for the sake of itIf you do this right you will end up passed out in a ditch somewhere between Hemingway and Nabokov and you will have a fair idea of what 'Under the Volcano' is like


  2. says:

    “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 VolcanoDon'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 chompingThe 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 volcanoA 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 understandingTo 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 saidA 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


  3. says:

    Literary AddictionI first read Under the Volcano in 1968 At that confused cusp in time between teen aged idealism and adult cynicism I had travelled to Cuernavaca in pursuit of my first love whose father had moved his family there I was sure at the time but mistakenly in order to ensure his oldest daughter did not succumb to my inept entreaties As it turned out I discovered that I liked her family than I liked her So the trip turned into a bit of a disasterSo in an attempt at literary therapy I threw myself into Lowry who satisfied my romantic needs on several levels First he turned the city itself into something of a post colonial paradise that was insulated from the cares of the world and its physical necessities “The eternal sorrow that never sleeps of great Mexico” exactly matched my own depressive mood As I tried to follow Lowry’s Ulysses like travels around the city I could see the pervasive poverty of Cuernavaca as quaint; the rubbish tip of its central ravine as a melancholy barranca and entrance to the underworld; the obvious Mexican racism as an easy co existence of Spanish American and European culture alongside that of the still visible Aztec Olmec Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations Mexico’s sadness became bearableAnd although a problem shared in this case an immature affair of the heart may not be a problem halved it certainly allows for the serotonin like effects of Schadefreude However badly I was feeling I wasn’t like Lowry’s Geoffrey drinking myself into paranoid oblivion; nor like his brother Hugh was I gripped by terminal guilt; nor as his wife Yvonne was I in the grip of an Electra or Oedipal fixation And despite my sadness I hadn’t ‘lost it’ as we said in those days referring to the elusive mental self as had the Consul whose “equilibrium and equilibrium is all precarious balancing teetering over the awful unbridgeable void the all but unretraceable path of God's lightning back to God?” In the scheme of things I was getting off fairly lightly Finally it was clear to me that Under the Volcano was referencing many things about which I had not the slightest clue people places and events not to mention vocabulary and cognate puns which Lowry knew about and I didn’t were integral to his story But I also knew he was using them as symbols These things were deeply meaningful than they appeared on the surface And I had to learn about them in order to understand life at least the life that Lowry described Call it ‘hope’ through lack of understanding Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl which I could see from my bedroom window within the walls of ‘The Family Compound’ for example took on a significance that was simultaneously mysterious but concretely other than mere mountains They pointed elsewhere to hidden meanings and therefore to my own youthful ignorance and what really did happen in the bunker? This was liberating since it distracted me entirely from the issue of lost loveIn short Lowry helped me to grow up Just at the moment I needed some way out of an emotional dead end he showed up with his posse of flawed characters in another worldly world I moved however incrementally from a state of emotional distress to one of imaginative possibility Once that happens for good or ill you’re hooked Life without Lowry’s kind of writing is impossible thereafter Oh well I suppose there are worse addictions just as Lowry suggestsThis is an issue that largely has been solved by the internet An indispensable guide to the book is publicly available and makes all Lowry’s references and allusions clear


  4. says:

    The Consul an inconceivable anguish of horripilating hangover thunderclapping about his skull and accompanied by a protective screen of demons gnattering in his ears became aware that in the horrid event of his being observed by his neighbors it could hardly be supposed he was just sauntering down his garden with some innocent horticultural object in view Nor even that he was sauntering The Consul was almost running He was also lurching In vain he tried to check himself The Consul Albert Finney in the 1984 filmMalcolm Lowry may be one of the best examples of the writer who has one and only one so far as we can tell great novel in him I have to admit I had never heard of this novel prior to reading it a few years ago It blew me away What I remember best about it is the frighteningly realistic way in which Lowry conveys that the Consul Geoffrey Firmin is sickeningly drunk almost constantly from his first drink in the morning until passing out at night Reading many of the passages made me feel I had a horrible drunk on myself just barely conscious not able to think clearly my mind alternately racing and stopped dead Lowry who was himself an alcoholic somehow contrived this unbelievably realistic way of writing of the consul’s inner world in what might be called a stream of drunkenness style the Consul nodded desperately removing his glasses and at this point the Consul remembered he had been without a drink nearly ten minutes; the effect of the tequila too had almost gone He had peered out at the garden and it was as though bits of his eyelids had broken off and were flittering and jittering before him turning into nervous shapes and shadows jumping to the guilty chattering in his mind not quite voices yet but they were coming back they were coming backIf you haven't read the book you owe it to yourself to check it out but be forewarned you may not take another drink for awhile It is often mentioned on lists of the twentieth century’s greatest novels view spoilerI swear I haven’t done this but if you Google something like “greatest novels of the twentieth century and then examine lists which might come up I’ll bet you a drink what else that Under the Volcano is on most of them hide spoiler


  5. says:

    A good word to describe 1947’s Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry is LANGUID This is authentic rambling genuinely just one long continuous drivel All of it sound and fury signifying nothing It’s a true pity that the book is so inaccessible unreadable; it invites for some spontaneous skimming to occur something a book must never inspire in its reader The setting is magnificent but certainly not unalike Henry Miller with his snooze inducing masterpiece impostor “Tropic of Cancer” the uglification of Mexico is as abhorrent ridiculous as the descriptions of rancid Paris in “Tropic” There is not one single sentence clever enough beautiful enough even at all special or pretending to be special Lowry decides to produce one of the only books that I can think of that is totally devoid at least ONE special one poetic sentence It's that horrible “The eternal sorrow that never sleeps of great Mexico” this certainly is a promise left unfulfilled We get nasty descriptions which repeat endlessly all in a headache inducing loop just as the brain of a drunkard reels about Aimlessness murkiness being inside the mind of a drunk without being drunk ourselves is a total bust This is that overly typical story of the crazy gringo well a displaced British Consul actually getting “tight” on a Mexican holiday the unintentionally un symbolic Day of the Dead boozing on mescal and myriad other liquors which appear before him like mirages in the wild Why are stories with roaring drunks in ‘em so critically lauded? I REALLY don’t get it Unlike Hunter S Thompson’s “The Rum Diary” or any of the innumerable American plays by Arthur Miller by Eugene O’Neill by Edward Albee you know exactly the tragic type this one makes it hellish for the reader himself poor poor guy to really delve into the novel; into the awful sways and malicious deviations from a proper plot and proper character portrayals It’s insipid it‘s a novel which transpires one fateful day but feels like one l o n g sad weekend; actually like an entire week of swimming in alcohol like a booze hound Although considered one of the bonafide towering achievements of the 20th century it is indeed novels like this one which make one glad that that century is long gone


  6. says:

    A true literary masterpiece This is minimalistic in scope but brilliantly complex and multi layered in detail The exceptional prose is interspersed with flashes of stream of consciousness and eclectic almost poetic imagery The multiple references to Conrad were interesting almost the flip side of Heart of Darkness as Lowry describes the inevitable collapse of a man and in metaphor civilization


  7. says:

    The truth is that most of the best books aren't part of any movement at all Most of them don't need to be; they're just trying to tell you a story But when you talk about the story of literature you end up inventing chapters realism modernism gothics because that helps you organize it You give examples in each chapter and so books that can be categorized into these movements end up over represented in the story And here we are with Under the Volcano which is not a very important book nor as good a read as say The Street by Ann Petry but which nonetheless keeps making it onto syllabi Mostly it's an attempt to relocate Ulysses to Mexico and drown it in mezcalWhich is not to say that any book belonging to a recognizable movement is bad That would be a silly thing to say Woolf is great Even Ulysses is great although it suffers from sortof a Pulp Fiction problem it was so innovative and powerful that it spawned a legion of doppelgangers most of which are unnecessary like Under the Volcano It's not Ulysses' fault but you sortof blame it anywayAnyway Malcolm Lowry is certainly shitfaced on modernism here Switching perspectives like a drunk guy switching excuses for his limp dick Making sure that you'll start each paragraph thinking Wait what? I can explain the plot though don't worry So can Lowry actually here's his explanation it's A kind of opera or even a horse opera It is hot music a poem a song a tragedy a comedy a farce and so forth The shit averse Michael Schmidt in his introduction correctly interprets this Fortunately he says In the teeth of such nonsense it can be regarded as a novel Well barely Malcolm Lowry doing his thingHere's what happens with minor spoilers Geoffrey Firmin is a minor diplomat in Mexico whose wife Yvonne has left him because he drinks too much She comes back for one last try on the Day of the Dead but he ignores her to drink all day She’s fucked every man in this story huh and she ends up hanging out with his brother Hugh all day whom she’s fucked Perspectives shift between them and the chapters each correspond to an hour of the day The landscape is hellish; we pass by dead dogs a dead tortoise a bald boy swinging madly in a hammock At the end major view spoilerGeoffrey is shot by a random lowlife; the shot spooks a horse nearby who tramples Yvonne to death hide spoiler


  8. says:

    If you're into stuff like this you can read the full reviewBuddhist Monk Under the Volcano by Malcolm LowryOriginal Review 1981 03 15“The Consul reached forward and absentmindedly managed a sip of whisky; the voice might have been either of his familiars or Hullo good morning The instant the Consul saw the thing he knew it an hallucination and he sat quite calmly now waiting for the object shaped like a dead man and which seemed to be lying flat on its back by his swimming pool with a large sombrero over its face to go away So the 'other' had come again And now gone he thought but no not quite for there was still something there in some way connected with it or here at his elbow or behind his back in front of him now; no that too wherever it was was going perhaps it had only been the coppery tailed trogon stirring in the bushes his 'ambiguous bird' that was now departed quickly on creaking wings like a pigeon once it was in flight heading for its solitary home in the Canyon of the Wolves away from the people with ideas”


  9. says:

    Labyrinth of streets wild lush tropical vegetation impudently encroaching everywhere seizing the garden and the residence of Consul; volcanoes majestically tower over the city hiding every moment in the clouds humidity and heat suffocating everything around Atmosphere of unspecified horror lurking in the alleys misery hanging in the air like a premonition of impending storm Mexico fiesta Day of the Death 1938 And though we know the time and place of action in dialogues and flashbacks with Consul Hugh and Yvonne we wander around the world traversing countries and cultures their history myths and poetryThe city spread out at the foot of two volcanoes streets and buildings remembering better times not only the Consul's but much earlier the Spanish' explorers The city with ruins of Maximilian’s Palace where yet still seem to wander the ghosts of his ill fated love for Carlotta Narrow and winding streets that Consul stupefied in scorching heat like in somnambulistic transe alternately drunk sober and hung over traverses from cantina to cantina chased by demons and hallucinationsThe narration is jerky and chaotic full of complaints remorse memories monologues Words are flowing and flowing One can read Under the Volcano as a record of extreme alcoholism self destruction as a human one way journey As a record of a one day the last one in fact from Consul Geoffrey Firmin’s life the day in which Consul reached the end of the line marked gradual plunge into darkness alcohol exploration of absolute ?But it is also a story of love Consul and Yvonne their separation and her return on fiesta day Her desperate attempt to save Consul from himself and stick that what is irrevocably broken How one can help other man contrary to him ? Is it really possible such a thing to save anyone ? But one can look at the novel as an allegory of the fall Of a man but also the world and civilization Not only by invoking the ruins of Maximilian's Palace and statues of ancient conquistadors on the squares of the city or devastated garden like a parody of paradise from which lovers were exiled But also by reference to the time of action November 1938 there is not much time left when world will plunge into madness of war Images that Lowry creates are painfully suggestive so that in the end we seem to lose orientation we wonder if it is still Mexico whether delirium is it heat or maybe hangover


  10. says:

    This seemed so promising self destruction love triangles Mexico but after about 150 pages I couldn't hack it Certainly the most committed stream of consciousness study of alcoholism I've ever failed at reading but in the end I just decided to not become an alcoholic and stopped reading