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Under the volcano Unknown Binding – 1981

34 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 375 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (1981)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007C4OBM
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,631,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 4 Jan. 2006
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 25 Mar. 2006
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Murphy on 13 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
Malcolm Lowry belongs to the small and exclusive club of "one-hit" authors, other members including Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and arguably, Richard (Revolutionary Road) Yates. True, Lowry did write other fiction, but nothing on the grand, macabre scale of this work.

Geoffrey Firmin, ex consul and alcoholic is joined in the Mexican town of Quauhnahuac (a name devised especially to torment critics who must type it) by his ex-wife Yvonne and half brother Hugh. She is hoping for a reconciliation, Hugh is stopping by as part of a longer journey. It is the Day of the Dead and in the small town, which lies in the shadow of two volcanoes, Firmin drinks, reminisces and wanders inexorably towards tragedy.

It's not an easy book to read and not an easy book to rate. Lowry's prose is evocative to the point of becoming purple and his lengthy digressions into the thoughts of each of his characters can become distracting. But stick with it and this book is fantastically rewarding. No one else has managed to capture the labyrinthine workings of the human mind with such precision: the evasions, the self deceptions, the irrelevant musings, the sudden moments of clarity. The main character, Firmin, is brilliantly drawn - a shambling wreck of a man who wants to deserve his wife, but knows he can't. Followed everywhere by pariah dogs, Firmin is rotting from the inside out. He's already dead in a spiritual sense and all that keeps him together is mescal and a sense he still represents human decency in a country which is struggling not to collapse into lawlessness. It's a magnificent, terrifying portrait - terrifying because it makes a compelling case that none of us are more than a collection of ideas and memories, doomed to insignificance and ultimate disintegration. It's a bleak, blackly humorous world picture, but one well worth experiencing.
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