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Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 3 Feb 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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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: 16.8 x 1.9 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 64,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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


"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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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