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. It is superficial, profound, entertaining, and boring, according to taste. It is a prophecy, a political warning, a cryptogram, a preposterous movie."
- Malcolm Lowry to his publisher Jonathan Cape, January 2, 1946