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Under The Volcano: A Novel [Paperback]

Malcolm Lowry
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 29 2007 0061120154 978-0061120152 Reprint

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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Regardless of what his apologists say, Under the Volcano is Malcolm Lowry's only wholly successful book. Fortunately, it is a masterpiece. Reading it is like willingly submitting yourself to a bout of delirium tremens, with all of the disorientation, terror, and pity that that implies. Under the Volcano isn't an easy book to get through; it is extravagantly lurid and deeply allusive, and its protagonist, Consul Geoffrey Firmin, is a hopeless wreck of a human being. Nonetheless, Lowry's seemingly self-indulgent horrors are justified by the immense power of his fiction.

Under the Volcano takes place in Quahnahac, Mexico, on the Day of the Dead in November 1939, in the shadow of European war. Firmin is in the process of violently drinking himself to death, alternately cowering in the comfort of his few, half-estranged friends and lashing out at them. His ex-wife, Yvonne, has returned from her flight to the United States to attempt to bring Firmin back into line. His younger brother, Hugh, wishes to slip over to Spain to join the last feeble resistance against Franco's fascist government. Firmin's long, doomed day is a progress through metaphysical dread and faint hopes of redemption--hopes that are always dashed by politics, mescal, and the failure of love.

This is one of the handful of fictions that gave the 20th century the Infernos it so urgently deserved. Lowry's attention to the Second World War is oblique, almost evasive, but Under the Volcano somehow remains one of the best literary attempts to grapple with modernity's most terrible moment. Indispensable. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"One of the towering novels of this century." -- --New York Times

"The book obviously belongs with the most original and creative novels of our time." -- --Alfred Kazin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating author April 1 2009
Format:Paperback
This is the kind of book that you either love or hate. There are already tons of reviews on this site about the book itself from both camps, but if you want to learn more about the author, Malcolm Lowry, the National Film Board of Canada has a fascinating documentary about him called Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry. It's available for (free and legal) viewing online at NFB.ca [[..]
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5.0 out of 5 stars "The free will of man is unconquerable." March 22 2004
Format:Paperback
Under the Volcano represents the ultimate oxymoron: a fun classic. For those who enjoy stellar, if not unpredictable, imagery and use of literary tools to the hilt, this book will energize you. Conversely, for those who are just looking for an engrossing read, this book fits the mold as well. Lowry, in what is still a truly seminal and novel approach, employs an amazingly diverse array of literary elements in a semi-autobiographical manner that make the read more rewarding for the more serious reader.
In the first chapter, which begins on the fittingly gloomy Day of the Dead in Quauhnahuac, Mexico, Lowry immediately sets the tone of the entire novel as we encounter our anti-hero, The Consul, in a perpetual drunken stupor. Chapter 2 begins, oddly enough, on the same day -- one year later in 1939. For the remainder of the book, one follows in the wobbly footsteps of the drunken Consul for what amounts to be 12 hours.
The reader is led on a meandering, if not convoluted, path between lucid sobriety and hazy drunkenness, between the past and the present, & between an ominous and foreboding sense of impending doom to a renewed feeling of hope -- all in an extraordinarily masterful way. For those who discount this book as simply "a book about a drunk," you do nothing more than flaunt your ignorance; it is, instead, a book that speaks uniquely of the human condition, free will, remorse, reconciliation, duplicity, and the duality of despondency and hope.
"The novel can be read simply as a story which you can skip if you want. It can be read as a story you will get more out of if you don't skip. It can be regarded as a kind of symphony, or in another way as a kind of opera--or even a horse opera. It is hot music, a poem, a song, a comedy, a farce, and so forth.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Novels of the 20th Century Jan. 19 2004
By Dominic
Format:Paperback
Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano" is one of the best books I've read in a while. Published in 1947, it's today considered by many (and recently, myself) to be one of the greatest novels written in the English language; Lowry combines elegant poetic prose, first-hand perspectives, and cultured differences to present a mastery of celestial writing in what I found to be a quick read.
To give a brief synopsis; a self-deposed Consul living in Mexico becomes an alcholic, and is ignorant to his cheating wife and two-faced friends. This much is assumed when the story starts---it picks up from a point where his wife who has left him returns to Mexico in hopes of pulling him out of his dilemma that he can't do on his own. The whole book takes place on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, a Latin holiday when all give respect to friends/family/people who have died), 1938, in a town shadowed by two volcanos.
"Under the Volcano" is by no means an action book, although it is one of the quicker reads I've had in a while. To quote the afterword given, it is a book that "addresses universal values of love, individual integrity, faith, and brotherhood," while at the same time enveloping the reader in a story that cannot be put down.
Some previous reviewers mentioned that the style of writing was difficult to understand. Certain aspects can complicate, but by no means impede, comprehension of his writing. For instance, since the story takes place in Latin America, there is a lot of Spanish used. Being multilingual helps, but I found that had I not understood Spanish, the general idea would have still been portrayed. Then there is also the occasional lack of punctuation, which signifies the "voices" in the Consul's alcoholic psyche.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Miss Reading This Great Classic! Nov. 17 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Under the Volcano is one of the towering literary achievements of the 20th century. It is what Ulysses would be if Joyce had been capable of expressing his emotions. Set in Mexico against the backdrop of that country's Day of the Dead Festival, Malcolm Lowry's work focuses on one day--the last day--in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a man whose past--a past about which we learn very little--has led him to torture both himself and the people who love him through acute alcoholism and by hermetically sealing himself off from human contact. He is a man who set out in his life to make a difference and finds himself in a Hell of his own making instead. This book is complex, containing numerous references and parallels to Dante's Inferno and to the Bible and to God only knows what other heady books, but it is surprisingly fast-paced. The characters and their respective fates will haunt you long after you've put the book down. Don't ignore this neglected masterpiece. Also recommended: I, Claudius by Robert Graves, The Losers' Club by Richard Perez
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good look into the alcoholic subconscious Oct. 25 2003
Format:Paperback
Through his stream of conciousness prose, Malcolm Lowry does a great job of getting inside the head of a hopeless alcoholic, British ex-consul Geoffrey Firmin. That and the vivid backdrop of a fictitious Mexican town in the 1930's made this a great read. It was amazing to so vividly experience the insanity of alcoholism. Lowry struck home on the utter confusion associated with being a black-out drunk, whether it be confusion in terms of one's sense of time and place and sequence of events, or the utter self-delusion of one's importance and place in the universe. All this was achieved by Lowry's very "abstract" and fractured writing style, through which he created the extremely amazing, complicated and intriguing character of Geoffrey Firmin. Lowry definitely wrote from experience. The book only gets 4 stars because two of the three main characters (Hugh and Yvonne) were a little one-dimensional for me, and I didn't really get into the book until about halfway through. But it is definitely well worth the effort and was well-deservingly included among the Modern Library's Top 100 novels of the 20th Century.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This incredible novel needs no endorsement from me...
Published 7 days ago by Madame B
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
An all around great book! Was well put together! A must for anyone who likes great literature! Go get it!
Published 4 months ago by mark corkum
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating author
This is the kind of book that you either love or hate. There are already tons of reviews on this site about the book itself from both camps, but if you want to learn more about the... Read more
Published on April 1 2009 by M. Deschenes
3.0 out of 5 stars Lethargic and convoluted path of a drunkard
The book chronicles, with occasional reminiscences of its characters, events of one day in which Geoffrey Firmin, an ex-British consul in Mexico, sidled up to this inevitable... Read more
Published on March 27 2004 by Matthew M. Yau
4.0 out of 5 stars Joyce on mescal
This is a difficult book to read, and in the first 50 pages or so I didn't think it was too interesting. Read more
Published on March 16 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Mescal, Por Favor.
Where to begin? I finished reading Under the Volcanop three months ago and I am still uncertain about my reaction. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by J. Huntington Worth
5.0 out of 5 stars CLASSIC
near ENCYCLOPEDIAN account hillarous TOLD IN DIZZYdroll ATTENTION TO DETAILs HAILShells Bells GLORY DETOXIFICATING, NEAR SUb ATOMIC miniscule AND EPOCH spawning VAST IN ITS hideous... Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2003 by david
5.0 out of 5 stars CLASSIC
near ENCYCLOPEDIAN account hillarous TOLD IN DIZZYdroll ATTENTION TO DETAILs HAILShells Bells GLORY DETOXIFICATING, NEAR SUb ATOMIC miniscule AND EPOCH spawning VAST IN ITS hideous... Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2003 by david
5.0 out of 5 stars "No se pueda vivir sin amar" and other truths...
I think this work is a real masterpiece; poignant, dark, strange, rich and even very humourous sometimes. Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2003 by c_m
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