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3.6 out of 5 stars35
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 30 July 2004
'UTV' is the story of one man's struggle with his own self-destruction. Geoffrey Fermin is the former British consul to a Mexican town in the period preceding WWII. He is hopelessly alcoholic, an addiction that has cost him his marriage (to Yvonne) and his friendships, especially with his half-brother Hugh. The book is set on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican feast day. Yvonne, having divorced Geoffrey and left Mexico, returns to him, worried about his drinking. She finds Hugh (her former lover) already there, visiting for a few days. Geoffrey is, of course, drunk. Over the course of the day, Yvonne and Hugh try to tempt Geoffrey away from the drink, convinced it will consume him, with visions of an idyllic life in Canada, reunited with his wife. Geoffrey is faced with the loss of his self-destruction in exchange for redemption, and is forced to question whether that is something he really wants, or whether embracing his own tragedy wouldn't be preferable.
Although this rehash of the storyline may not sound particularly gripping, Lowry manages to turn this simple premise into a titanic battle for one man's soul. There is a Faustian element to the story. We know Geoffrey's past holds a terrible secret (possibly the murder of many prisoners when he was a ship's captain) and that his pact with alcohol is his only way of surviving with his guilt. He has sold his soul to the bottle and feels that he can't or shouldn't escape before the price is paid. The diabolic theme is continued with the Mexican town turned into a vision of hell on the Day of the Dead, and a deep ravine running through it, a constantly menacing presence, is referred to as the 'Malbolges' (a reference to the deeper levels of hell in Dante's Inferno). So Geoffrey is in a hell of his own making, and surviving it by a Faustian pact with alcohol. These weighty themes make one man's struggle with booze feel like the coming of an apocalypse, and the book gets darker and more ominous as the end approaches, replete with violent storms and nightmarish imagery (a corpse being robbed by the side of the road, a crazed stallion running through the tempest). It suddenly feels like the whole world is about to cave in, and that Geoffrey's struggle is far more than one man's attempt to rescue himself. It is the sort of writing that the word 'powerful' was invented for.
Geoffrey's story is, more or less, Lowry's. The power of the writing is in part due to the fact that Lowry faced much the same battle, and ultimately lost. Details such as the Mexican town, the shack in Canada and the despairing wife are all taken from his own life. One of the great strengths of the book is the amount of understanding the reader is given about Geoffrey's attempt to embrace his own destruction, and this is surely because Lowry was feeling much the same when he wrote it. There is a scene in a Cantina late in the book where Hugh and Yvonne almost convince Geoffrey to go to Canada, but he suddenly wells up with anger and tells them that he will destroy himself however he chooses. I nearly stood and cheered that he had stuck to his guns, despite knowing that he had effectively chosen suicide over the chance of a happy life. This, to me, is a testament to Lowry's brilliant realisation of his character and his ability to communicate it to his readers.
This isn't a happy book, and I suspect that it will be appreciated much more by those with an element of Lowry/Geoffrey already in them. The writing, however, is brilliant: dark and menacing but at the same time witty and shot through with gallows humour. This means that it never feels like an unduly heavy read. I think that this a great piece of writing from one of literature's most enigmatic figures, and is unlike anything else that I have ever read.
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on 5 May 2015
No doubt a classic but a very difficult read. Basically a story about a rich English bloke who is an alcoholic in central Mexico and his erstwhile wife, an ex-child movie star. As noted elsewhere the prose is outstanding but a whole book describing being drunk? Easily the best descriptive essay on the topic but by the end I longed for a story. I won't spoil the ending but it stretches your belief and adds a rather surreal, and abrupt, ending to this tedious, rambling monologue. It took me six months to read and I'm generally a book a week person. Beware!
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VINE VOICEon 3 February 2008
I found this book a very tough slog. Every single paragraph is rich with description and meaning. You have to stay on the ball so I wouldn't recommend this as a holiday read. I liked the main character who never takes himself too seriously which is probably his downfall in the end. I didn't like the way the three people closest to him in the span of the novel all betrayed him in someway. He never uses this as an excuse for drinking but I cannot help feeling for the poor chap. I felt the atmosphere for Mexico, he describes the climate very well so you do feel like you are walking along side the characters. I am so glad I made it to the end but it has left somewhat of a nightmare feeling in my head as I think that the author superbly let you into the mind of Consul and that isn't a very good place to be. The only light relief was provided through his interactions with others and the way the author slides in the back stories of all the main characters. This was seamlessly done. It is a book that I will be thinking about in years to come but I wouldn't want to delve into that world again.
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on 9 March 2011
Incredibly dense, dark and daunting, Lowry sucks the reader into the myopic world of alcoholism. The intense heat of the Mexican sun, the unbearable sweating itch of excessive alcohol consumption and the resulting delerium are palpable, they ooze off the page. this book evokes disgust and compassion in equal measure and leaves you reeling with despair and desolation. Recommended to anyone who enjoys crawling into someone else's (troubled) skin and sticking it out for the full duration of the ride.
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on 1 April 2012
I read Under the Volcano years ago and loved it then. So I was looking forward to reading it again on my new Kindle. But the Kindle edition has not been produced to an acceptable professional standard. I am most irritated by the changing size of the typeface and the equally variable line spacing. Most of it is close to large print, meaning you get about two paragraphs per page. I want my money back!
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on 22 April 2014
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. The prose is wonderful but at times incoherent and events jumped from one to the other randomly especially from the PoV of the consul. I just didn't see a central thread but perhaps that was the point. I'd recommend reading it but perhaps I wasn't in the right mentality when I read it because it didn't affect me much.
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on 4 January 2016
Note that this rating is to discourage people from buying this version as it is littered with mistakes. For the book itself I would post a 3 star rating. It's a challenging book and one which I think I will read again sometime, possibly with some notes. I did get enjoyment from this book in parts but all too often I found the stream of consciousness a bit chaotic and long-winded
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on 11 March 2014
This is one of those novels that you can read three or four times in full and read bits of even more often...I found the word 'ghibbous' to describe a moon that is greater than half and less than full in it years ago and have used it in my thought and writing processes ever since....go read...
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on 3 May 2015
'Under the Volcano' needs no further recommendation; it is a masterpiece. Beware, however, the kindle version which is poorly transcribed leading to frequent confusion in a complicated text. Editing standards should be quite as high for an electronic book as for its physical counterpart.
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on 12 January 2015
A work of genius. How fortunate you are if you haven't yet read it.
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