Under the Volcano (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 3 Feb 2000
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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 KazinSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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 ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Previewed by 'the Book Programme' I wish I had ignored the recommendation!Published 3 months ago by phil clement
It's not the easiest read, and doesn't flow all the time, but it is a great book. It took me a while to finish it, and I put it down for weeks at a time before finally knuckling... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Mexile
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. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Graeme Macphee
This book lives up to the hype. Its not an easy read but very rewarding and I agree that it is one of the 100 great novels of the 20 Century.Published 14 months ago by Pillowtail
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. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Grant F Ferguson
'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... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Mike Sheppard
Wanted to obtain a copy of this for my kindle, but just to ensure it was what I wanted I decided to download a sample. Read morePublished 15 months ago by The Man from Mordor