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on 15 May 2017
Under the Volcano is the most remarkable book I have ever read, not the best, just the most remarkable. It is certainly not an easy book to read and as a story it does not include much action. When I originally finished it I admit I was a little disappointed with the ending. But the more I thought about it the more remarkable I found the whole book. What Lowry has done has created a structure out of words, a very carefuly crafted structure. You come to understand why it took so many years to write and why Lowry would throw away entire chapters and rewrite them.

Under the Volcano is metaphor built on metaphor, where everything has mulitple meanings, depths within depths. The story eventually reaching a crescendo where metaphor and reality meet. This book will stand many readings as there are still themes and threads to the story whose meaning eludes me and yet the parts I do understand mark this book as something truly unique in literature.
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on 1 December 2013
Reminescent of James Joyce style of writing in Ulysses but less coherent. Not an satisfying read for the effort required
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on 11 September 2017
great book, great supplier
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on 30 July 2016
I first read this at college and this is the third time I have read it. Be warned it is very hard work - some sentences, reflecting Geoffrey Firmin's state of mind, are very long indeed and require two or threee readings and a Spanish dictionary is helpful. Lowry wrote an extraordinary letter to his publisher which gives an insight into the book's symbolism which can be found in Douglas Day's biography which is also recommended to throw light on some of Lowry's obsessions. Having said all this the book rewards the effort and at the end you feel you want to start again to complete the circle of meaning. I think this is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
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on 7 April 2016
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 down to finish it.

It's evocative and atmospheric, depressing and tragic. As far as Mexico and its people go, it feels very authentic.
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on 20 April 2016
Previewed by 'the Book Programme' I wish I had ignored the recommendation!
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on 1 March 2009
The quality of Mr Lowry's prose is exceptional and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which is set in Mexico on The Day of the Dead in the late thirties. Who writes as well today? Most recent Booker winners compare unfavourably with this 1947 work which describes Geoffrey Firmin's battle with alcoholism and attempts at reconciliation with his wife. The horrors of the delirium tremens are evoked through brilliantly effective stream of consciousness passages.
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on 21 May 2015
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.
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on 13 August 2009
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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on 30 November 2013
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 the modern era. And the quality of the writing goes far in ascending such rarefied heights. It's taut and poetic, sometimes tortuous, breathtakingly assured, rich in vocabulary and often dense with allusion and symbolism. Yet never, in my opinion, difficult or impenetrable, as is sometimes the case with high modern literature.

I would add that its structure is also carefully fulfilled. After a brief first chapter, postscript or epilogue, where two subsidiary characters reflect obliquely on the story's events - M.Laruelle providing background on he and Geoffrey Firmin's childhood connection - the novel proceeds with an hour by hour re-telling of the events of that fateful day of days, on Mexico's macabre and vibrant festival Day of The Dead. What's more, within the linear structure of the unfolding day lie delicately chaotic, time-lapsed, dazed spells and passages, evoking the drunken haze and mescal miasma engulfing the protagonist's mindset. It disorientates in an analogous way.

That said, I have a couple of criticisms. It's never evident exactly what caused such dramatic, undying love and affection in the heart of Yvonnne, Geoffrey Firmin's moonstruck ex-wife, who returns on the scene to salvage him/their relationship, though he remains, presumably, as ever before, an inveterate, self-absorbed, determined drunk. She's a bit of a sap.

And Firmin himself, I have to confess, is rather dull, rather self-serious, with a tedious habit of academic posing. The classic and literary references that abound, however apt, to me, often distract, hinder momentum. Perhaps this weakness for high brow allusion is something in the blood of the author.

On the whole though, an impressive novel, at turns vital, disturbing, frustrating and devastating.
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