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Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Malcolm Lowry , Michael Schmidt
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Feb 2000 Penguin Modern Classics

One of the twentieth century's great undisputed masterpieces, Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano includes an introduction by Michael Schmidt in Penguin Modern Classics.

It is the fiesta 'Day of the Dead' in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac. In the shadow of the volcano, ragged children beg coins to buy skulls made of chocolate, ugly pariah dogs roam the streets and Geoffrey Firmin - ex-consul, ex-husband, an alcoholic and a ruined man - is living out the last day of his life. Drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him, the consul has become an enduring tragic figure. As the day wears on, it becomes apparent that Geoffrey must die. It is his only escape from a world he cannot understand. His story, the image of one man's agonised journey towards Calvary, became a prophetic book for a whole generation.

Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957) was born and died in England. Between school and studying English at St Catherine's College, Cambridge he spent five months at sea as a deckhand, an experience which gave him the material for his first novel, Ultramarine (1933). After marrying in Paris, he moved to New York where he completed In Ballast to the White (1936). Under The Volcano was begun in Hollywood, coloured by a short stay in the Mexico that it describes, and eventually finished in Dollarton, British Columbia.

If you enjoyed Under the Volcano, you might like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned, also available in Penguin Classics.

'A Faustian masterpiece'

Anthony Burgess


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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (3 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141182253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141182254
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

I think I know a good deal about physical suffering. But this is worst of all, to feel your soul dying. I wonder if it is because tonight that my soul has really died that I feel at the moment something like peace...Sometimes I am possessed by a most powerful feeling, a despairing bewildered jealousy which, when deepened by drink, turns into a desire to destroy myself by my own imagination--not at least to be the prey of--ghosts--
Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano, first published in 1947, is quite simply one of the great novels of the 20th century. Semi-autobiographical, and taking place during the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead in 1938, it recounts the last day in the life of the alcoholic ex-consul Geoffrey Firmin. Surrounded by the helpless presences of his ex-wife, his half-brother and acquaintances, he descends into a mescal-soaked purgatory, moving inexorably towards his tragic fate. His self-destructiveness reflects a spiritual struggle born of wilful abnegation and passivity, a depressed, existential acquiescence to the futility of positive action.

The story is simple, its manner of telling decidedly not: Lowry's style is dense, symbolic, allusive, the prose thick with resonance, and the structure complex, with flashbacks, abrupt shifts, and a gradual accumulation of information--it is a book that deserves reading and then rereading, for its pattern and subtleties reveal themselves only slowly. Firmin's story anchors the book's political ambience--the rise of Fascism and the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War lie heavily across its pages, and in turn make of Firmin not a character to be pitied but a representative figure of modernity. In this, Lowry's masterpiece has lost none of its power: it speaks to us of suffering and of loneliness, eliciting our compassion under the century's terrible shadow of mortality. --Burhan Tufail

Review

"One of the towering novels of this century."--"New York Times"[Lowry's] masterpiece...has a claim to being regarded as one of the ten most consequential works of fiction produced in this century...It reflects the special genius of Lowry, a writer with a poet's command of the language and a novelist's capacity to translate autobiographical details into a universal statement."--"Los Angeles Times"The book obviously belongs with the most original and creative novels of our time."--Alfred Kazin

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I love hell. I can't wait to get back there." 4 Jan 2006
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico, is a prisoner of alcoholism. A victim of the shakes, he hears voices, talks to people who are not there, and hallucinates, though he is often able to hide the extent of his drinking. "True, he might lie down in the street, but he would never reel." On The Day of the Dead in 1938, his recently divorced wife Yvonne returns to Quauhnahuac, over which two smoking volcanoes loom, to try to persuade him to reconcile.
Coincidentally, Geoffrey's half-brother Hugh, with whom Yvonne apparently had a brief affair, also arrives that day, and the three share quarters, each hoping to recapture the past. When they take the bus to Tomalin to a bull-riding event, they see a wounded peasant dying beside the road, the peasant's horse with the number 7 branded on its rump, a tricky pesado, and a group of vigilantes, all of whom play a role in the climax which follows.
Rich with details, both of the external world of Quauhnahuac and the internal world of Geoffrey, the novel, first published in 1947, reflects Lowry's own experiences as an alcoholic. Geoffrey, a fully-rounded character, knows that he must stop drinking in order to function effectively, but he is unable to function at all without drinking. He both loves and despises Yvonne, wants to leave Mexico but wants to stay, and wants to find peace but creates chaos.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Geoffrey Firmin, the former British consul to Mexico, is a prisoner of alcoholism. A victim of the shakes, he hears voices, talks to people who are not there, and hallucinates, though he is often able to hide the extent of his drinking. "True, he might lie down in the street, but he would never reel." On The Day of the Dead in 1938, his recently divorced wife Yvonne returns to Quauhnahuac, over which two smoking volcanoes loom, to try to persuade him to reconcile.
Coincidentally, Geoffrey's half-brother Hugh, with whom Yvonne apparently had a brief affair, also arrives that day, and the three share quarters, each hoping to recapture the past. When they take the bus to Tomalin to a bull-riding event, they see a wounded peasant dying beside the road, the peasant's horse with the number 7 branded on its rump, a tricky pesado, and a group of vigilantes, all of whom play a role in the climax which follows.
Rich with details, both of the external world of Quauhnahuac and the internal world of Geoffrey, the novel, first published in 1947, reflects Lowry's own experiences as an alcoholic. Geoffrey, a fully-rounded character, knows that he must stop drinking in order to function effectively, but he is unable to function at all without drinking. He both loves and despises Yvonne, wants to leave Mexico but wants to stay, and wants to find peace but creates chaos.
Read more ›
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Was this review helpful to you?
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
It is my belief that Malcolm Lowry wrote the last chapter of this novel (12) some time before the other chapters (1-11), and my advice is to begin reading the Volcano with the last chapter - (but who am I to give advice? - Lowry himself suggested that this book required twenty readings, and I have read it only a dozen times.) To a "new" reader, it might be best to begin by reading the novel at Chapter Twelve, the end. And another thing: Lowry read this entire monstrosity aloud, mostly to his long-suffering wife and his few friends; every single word of this novel is spoken; so try this and take turns with your guy or gal - eventually, I hope, you will tune-in to the author's voice, and I hope that it is the distinct voice of the book that will carry you through all of its tragic pages. And yet another thing: why not read the Chapters in reverse order? Malcolm Lowry does not care how you approach his novel - he's dead! - and maybe he did not have much talent as a writer, but I feel that Malc has lovingly stuffed the Volcano with so much stuff, that the novel assumes some sort of organic life of its own, with internal organs and the means to travel from A to B, or from B to A, such that one might be inclined to take it for a walk on a leash, if only to frighten the neighbours.
Will this novel still be read 50 or 100 years from now, along with "Heart of Darkness", "Cannery Row" and "Catch-22"?? on an i-thing? - who can tell. I'll be dead by then myself, so I hardly care. This book has so much life in it that it has become a valued friend to me, even when I hate it. It will be inside my box when the flames consume me. "Can one be faithful to Yvonne and the Farolito both?" - you decide, and then send me the answer on a postcard.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lowry letter to Cape
Have recently been reading Lowry's letter to Cape where he defends 'Under The Volcano' chapter by chapter. Read more
Published 1 month ago by H N Fletcher
1.0 out of 5 stars Turgid Stuff...
I was really looking forward to reading this book as a couple of my friends had highly rated it, however, so far (81% in) i have found it a rambling shambolic mess. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars Under the Volcano- Prepare to get in a lava.
The set up of the print within the book does not lend itself to an enjoyable read. If we are to appreciate the much heralded style of the writing then a more pleasing presentation... Read more
Published 4 months ago by John Harvey
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit incoherent
This is well-written and deservedly a classic but I wasn't bowled over by it and the characters didn't make much of an impression. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Cece de la Vela
4.0 out of 5 stars A Novel to reckon with
This is one of those novels that you can read three or four times in full and read bits of even more often... Read more
Published 5 months ago by janerussell
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
Reminescent of James Joyce style of writing in Ulysses but less coherent. Not an satisfying read for the effort required
Published 9 months ago by tomstaff
4.0 out of 5 stars A Smouldering Peak
A day in the life of, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic, the fall of man played out under civilized 20th century conditions, 'Under The Volcano' certainly promises a literary summit of... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Woolco
1.0 out of 5 stars It's going in the bin
I bought the Penguin Modern Classics version for 1 in a second hand bookshop. So far I have got to page 61 and I'm not sure that I can go on. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Peter Chapman
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition is unreadable!
I read Under the Volcano years ago and loved it then. So I was looking forward to reading it again on my new Kindle. Read more
Published on 1 April 2012 by GWW
2.0 out of 5 stars Stacked, as by some half-repenting poltergeist
An infuriating book. It offers a compelling story, interesting characters, insight into the alcoholic state of mind, all painted against a vibrant landscape in pre-war Mexico, and... Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2011 by Harimanjaro
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