Under the Volcano
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Under the Volcano

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  12,157 ratings  ·  687 reviews
Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul, has come to Quauhnahuac, Mexico. His debilitating malaise is drinking, an activity that has overshadowed his life. On the most fateful day of the consul's life—the Day of the Dead, 1938—his wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relat...more
Paperback, 402 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1947)
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sckenda
Apr 12, 2014 sckenda rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Readers of 20th Century Classics
Recommended to sckenda by: Modern Library
“You like this garden? Why is it yours? We evict those who destroy!” -- Under the Volcano, 1947, at 135

On the Day of the Dead in 1938, Geoffrey Firmin sits in a bar in Mexico, drunk again on mescal. He has resigned his post as British consul to drink himself to death. “I propose to disintegrate as I please.” (57) This is his final day in the shadow of the volcano.

On this day, Mexicans mourn their dead by holding mock funerals by day and partying at night. The early death of the consul’s parents...more
Ben
Purchase a large bottle of tequila and start walking from Ernest Hemingway's house to Vladimir Nabokov's house. As you're walking, take a drink for the sake of squandered love. Then take one for isolation. Take one drink for war, and two for peace. Take one for world-weariness. Take one for betrayal. Take a big one for fear. Take a bigger one for the allure of death. Take one for a chasm opened between lovers. Take one for connections that span oceans, continents. Take one for filthy, homeless d...more
Aubrey
Lowry could not perform the vital surgery of separating himself from his characters. He suspected at times that he was not a writer so much as being written, and with panic he realized that self-identity was as elusive as ever.

-Conrad Knickerbocker
You could state this novel was amazing. You could name it false. You could call this novel a giant of Modernism. You could pass it off as the rambling obscurities of a overeducated white guy with too much money in pocket and too lengthy a time on his...more
Nick Craske

Under The Volcano.
I thought The Tunnel was the most exquisitely drawn book title. But no. Under The Volcano. A fiercely poetic title. Terse in form and rich in mythic imagery.

Under: Beneath and covered by. Below the surface of. At a point or position lower or further down than. In the position or state of bearing, supporting, sustaining, enduring, etc….

This is an incredible book. I'm experiencing an incredible run of great reads and discovering writers who I want to read more of but Malcom Lowr...more
Agnieszka

Labyrinth of streets , wild , lush tropical vegetation impudently encroaching everywhere , seizing the garden and the residence of Consul ; volcanoes majestically tower over the city hiding every moment in the clouds , humidity and heat suffocating everything around . Atmosphere of unspecified horror lurking in the alleys , misery hanging in the air like a premonition of impending storm . Mexico , fiesta Day of the Death , 1938 . And though we know the time and place of action , in dialogues and...more
Ted

I’ve added a bit to this review from a comment I made on Steve Sckenda’s outstanding review of the novel here .


Malcolm Lowry may be one of the best examples of the writer who has one (and only one, so far as we can tell) great novel in him. I have to admit I had never heard of this novel prior to reading it a few years ago. It blew me away.

What I remember best about it is the frighteningly realistic way in which Lowry conveys that the Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, is sickeningly drunk almost consta...more
Szplug
Everything that takes place in Under the Volcano exists beneath the rarefied gaze of Popocatepetl, the towering volcano that dominates the south-central Mexican plateau. It is fitting that Lowry chose to make the volcano the omnipresent entity in his watercolor novel, since alcoholism, slumbering through filmy days and slurred nights, can erupt at any time into a furious outpouring of violent emotions, freed from the ruined tatters that constitute the remains of self-control. Such molten rivers...more
Chris
This seemed so promising (self-destruction! love triangles! Mexico!), but after about 150 pages I couldn't hack it. Certainly the most committed stream-of-consciousness study of alcoholism I've ever failed at reading, but in the end I just decided to not become an alcoholic and stopped reading.
Abailart
Under the Volcano

I read the Picador Classics edition (1967) with an introduction by Stephen Spender. Unusually, I read the introduction first, then again after reading the novel, which I read in three sittings. I like Spender, and relate to his reading of the book.

Despite its dual reputations of being difficult and about alcoholism, it is neither. As for difficulty, it’s true that understanding Spanish would be helpful, but the saturated extratextual references to mythology, mysticism, history...more
Mala

A hell of a book,i.e. if you can take the hell!

In his seminal essay, 'A Temple of Texts: Fifty Literary Pillars',William Gass has this to say:
"Under the Volcano should have been an entry among this fifty. Imagine it as the roof. It took me three starts to get into it; my resistance to it is now inexplicable, though I suspect I knew what I was in for. I have never read a book more personally harrowing. It is also a rare thing in modern literature: a real tragedy, with a no-account protagonist to...more
Jonfaith
Towards the nightmarish conclusion of Under the Volcano, Yvonne recognizes that the drinks "lay like swine on her soul." That poetic glimpse into Bacchic darkness is a glimpse of the novel's mastery, It is impossible to distinguish it only as a novel about alcoholism, or, even, a return to the primoridal Eden besieged by History's jackboots. Under the Volcano is so much more than that. Each of the principal characters exposes their soul, yet motivations remain dim, much like the fetid cantinas a...more
Paul
This is an influential book; Bolano opens The Savage Detectives with an epigraph from it. Under the Volcano isn’t just a book about a drunk and a record of his drunken ramblings. Our protagonist, the British Consul, Geoffrey Firmin is not a classic hero in the Hemingway mould; craggy and square-jawed. Nor is he drowning his sorrows. His primary relationship is not with Yvonne, his estranged wife, but with alcohol.
There are oceans of allusions and references here; the book is packed with them. Th...more
Adam
Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is a mad prophet’s dream of rising dangers, a masterpiece of symbolism (the animal imagery, Dia de los Muertos, the Volcanoes), a great intertwining of voices (radio, letters, movie posters, remembrances), an encapsulation of the era’s political thought and literature, a surreal, hypnotic journey into the night, and a breathtakingly beautiful book; a sad, half-demented augury. The last 50 or so pages are especially worth it. One the most chilling last lines I ha...more
Kimley
It's been a while since I found myself so completely frustrated by a book's ability to be simultaneously truly amazing and annoyingly awful. There were so many things about this book that I really loved. And one thing that especially ruined the entire experience for me and that is Lowry's writing style.

In the dictionary next to the phrase "purple prose" is a giant photo of Lowry, grinning sheepishly, fully aware of his penchant for ornate verbiage. About half way through I took a glance at the...more
Ian Paganus
Place Holder

I read this in about 1974.
It is one of my favourite books ever, though I haven't read it again, yet.
I remember its crystalline clear prose, even though it describes the life of an alcoholic.
Perhaps, he just drank to achieve clarity.

My Alcoholic Theory

Lowry is probably evidence against my theory that alcohol kills the unhealthy brain cells first, therefore it purifies your brain.
If this was ever true of Lowry, I think the alcohol didn't stop at purity, it started on all the other cell...more
David Lentz
Lowry's narrative technique is bold: here we have the tale of one half of the last day in the life of a man who is drunk. He is a British Consul living in Mexico beneath a volcano. The narrative captures the vision of the drunk experiencing his life, which has become a Kubla Kahn. This can't be easy to render: yet Lowry ambitiously does so in a true 20th century masterpiece. The protagonist literally stumbles through his incoherent existence like Leopold Bloom in the red light district of Dublin...more
Siobhan
UPDATE: I GIVE UP.

The endless walk to the bus station! The endless portentous references to THE HANDS OF FATE! I CAN'T TAKE IT! GAHHHHHH111111!!!!!!1111!





It is taking me a long, long time to read this.

Not because it isn't good. Every time I pick it up I fall into this kind of weird, semi-amazed trance that makes me a.) wish I was drunk, b.) feel slightly drunk, and c.) feel like I haven't had a drink in years and could really use one RIGHT NOW. All at the same time. Which is not an unpleasant rea...more
Matilda Lou
this book must be read more than once to understand it. the first time, the reader struggles through the alcohol, the hurt and mexico. the second time, the reader understands the alcohol, the hurt, and mexico. the third time, the reader (me) falls into the book, stays there and appreciates what lowry did as a writer, he let go of everything, understood that he is in no way like the writers of his time (joyce...etc.) and he just writes. His characters are completely flawed and are in no way looki...more
Liam Howley
Having never read David Foster Wallace, it is probably unfair of me to begin a review of Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano with a comment on his work, however, I once had the pleasure of a conversation with a girl, a customer in an establishment I used to work, who upon discussing the various authors she enjoyed groaned at the name of David Foster Wallace. Other than a yet incomplete reading of Everything and More, (it's about maths), I had no insight, so her groan only prompted a question. Was...more
Donna
"He had arrived at that stage of drunkenness where it becomes necessary to shake hands with everyone."
Malcolm Lowry, 'Under the Volcano'

"You have to go to bed now or spend the night in the lawn chair. You know I can't lift you, Dad."
-the unknown soldiers

I put this book off for a very long time. It was first recommended to me with boundless enthusiasm in New York by the first alcoholic my own age that I took seriously. I was 19, and I could spot one a mile away. What I didn't know at the time, w...more
Josh
Survives and yes even thrives despite referring during its horrific/ heartbreaking final chapter to someone "pharting"...Meanwhile there are good verbose books and bad verbose books and the difference between them - a difference blurred, for me at least, by the fact that I just kind of like it when writers use a lot of words - may be analogous to the one between information and noise. Lowry is remarkably high on the former; so his book despite its heft comes off as amazingly efficient: as if its...more
Evan
Ah, Malcolm Lowry, you were a batshit crazy drunken nut of a novelist at the right time to be so: the mid-20th century -- a time of Jackson Pollock and atonal music and cut-up literary narrative and horrible black box skyscrapers; a time of an artistic aesthetic that, thank God, is dead -- and your obsessively overdescriptive novel in which even the non-drunk characters spout non-sequiturs showed your critically fashionable Joycean penchant for the stream of conscious and ample obscurantist refe...more
Jimmy
Despite the fact that Under the Volcano has earned enough respect to be considered one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, it is still a dubious distinction among many critics. Some find its inherently autobiographical essence, reprehensible. Others see so much bombastic lyricism in the novel as to make whatever remains of a plot, completely unintelligible. Many see nothing more than a novel about an alcoholic, written by an alcoholic. Of course, such criticisms have not been made w...more
Ned Rifle
"However rich in precursors, the truly great work must seem to break with an old order and really is a devastating if salutary move. Such a work extends the reach of art but also complicates and burdens the enterprise of art with new, self-conscious standards. It both excites and paralyses the imagination."
- Susan Sontag

"Christ Jesus why may we not be simple?"
- Hugh Firmin C/O Malcolm Lowry (Or Malcolm Lowry C/O Hugh
Firmin, if you prefer)

I won't be saying much about this book at present, th...more
Ellie
I've actually been meaning to read this book for over 20 years! It wasn't as difficult as I feared or as fabulous as I hoped. It is, however, an excellent book with prose so luscious I sometimes felt as drunk as the chronically inebriated Consul. Geoffrey Firmin is a British Consul in Mexico whose wife has left him. The book opens with two characters discussing the tragedy of the Consul. The book then begins properly, a year earlier, on The Day of the Dead. The action takes place during the cour...more
Jpablobr
Wow! I thought I was going to dive into a story filled with the dreadfulness of a life overflowed with addiction and mental instability. But while, yes, that's the main course, what I found was an amazing depiction to the level of making you sick to the stomach - mostly with emotions of fear. It felt like a book written at the speed of a movie, which probably is also why many will argue it's very hard to read (despite the Spanish, which as many other things, was kind of irrelevant), filled with...more
Hadrian
The multi-layered structure of the prose contrasts with the further descent of the main character. Terrifying and vivid imagery. A masterfully planned novel of wandering and slouching to oblivion. Definitely should be reread.
A.J. Howard
After reading On the Road last year I created a 'guilty disappointment' shelf. Guilty disappointments, according to me, involve the similar feelings of shame involved in indulging a guilty pleasure. It all involves not living up to a arbitrary and self-imposed standard. With a guilty pleasure, at least you get to enjoy the second half of the term. Yeah, you may be infringing on some expectation of personal taste by watching American Ninja Warrior or buying tickets to the new Jerry Bruckheimer ex...more
Raegan Butcher
Apr 18, 2008 Raegan Butcher rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: alcoholics and those wishing to be
A few years back I used to sit and drink myself quite senseless in this outdoor cantina in Cuernavaca (the inspiration for the fictonal town in Mexico here) and this novel was never far from my mind. Hallucinatory, feverish and suffused with doom, this is a heavy breakfast to tackle but worth it for the brave and interested.
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 12, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 to 2010)
Shelves: 1001-core
They say that to fully understand a nation, one has to read its fiction literature. This is very true in the case of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano.

Mexico in a small town called Quauhnahuac (the Aztec name of Cuernavaca), on the Day of the Dead in 1938. The Day of the Dead (Nov 1st) is the Mexican equivalent of our "All Souls Day" here in the Philippines which is the day after, i.e., Nov 2nd. The main character is 42-y/o Geoffey "Consul" Firmin (that for me to remember while reading, I keep o...more
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Malcolm Lowry (1909–1957) was a British novelist and poet whose masterpiece Under the Volcano is widely hailed as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Born near Liverpool, England, Lowry grew up in a prominent, wealthy family and chafed under the expectations placed upon him by parents and boarding school. He wrote passionately on the themes of exile and despair, and his own wander...more
More about Malcolm Lowry...
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“How, unless you drink as I do, could you hope to understand the beauty of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?” 38 likes
“No se puede vivir sin amar” 13 likes
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