I first read Under the Volcano about 30 years ago when I was a young pup trying to grow into my big ears and clumsy feet. Without fully underA reread.
I first read Under the Volcano about 30 years ago when I was a young pup trying to grow into my big ears and clumsy feet. Without fully understanding the novel I felt I'd read a significant work of literature. I told myself I was going to read it again soon while, at the same time, digesting the critical glosses i could get my hands on so I could better understand the cornucopia of themes, allusion, and meaning. Almost immediately following that initial read I came across and briefly studied a book about Lowry's use of the Kabbalah. But the years drifted by until "soon" became 2015. This spring I began studying the novel, reading critical materials, particularly David Markson's famous Malcolm Lowry's Volcano: Myth, Symbol, Meaning. I took notes, I marked key passages, i annotated. My reread of the novel was slow and devotional. I underlined in red ink and annotated the margins. Because the novel's dense with allusion, metaphor, and parallels while at the same time taking on a mythic dimension of its own, some of the pages of my copy are so full of notations, arrows, and underscoring that they look as if they've been attacked by a demented chimpanzee. But it was just me.
I can't review it. I have no critical credentials and so can add no insight to the novel not already presented by an army of scholars and critics. But I can tell you I loved reading Under the Volcano. It's the kind of intellectually challenging and satisfying novel I always hope to find but seldom do. I believe it to be one of the literary sacred texts of the 20th century. It's a difficult novel but it's lovely. It's a tragic story but it's lovely. It's encyclopedic in its metaphor, analogy, and allusion. It's masterful and Joycean in its many textures. I recommend it to you...and you. ...more
Independently wealthy--his father was one of the founders of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch--James Merrill didn't need to work. Possessing a gift foIndependently wealthy--his father was one of the founders of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch--James Merrill didn't need to work. Possessing a gift for poetry and language, he wrote without the need to subsidize his writing through teaching or editing or any other kind of employment. Yet he spent almost every day of his adult life in disciplined, hard work at his desk writing mostly poetry but also a couple of novels, a memoir, and a handful of plays. Langdon Hammer's is a critical biography which discusses the work in detail. He tells us that much of it was autobiographical. Merrill was a formal poet, always working in some traditional structure and rhyme. His long daily hours at his desk paid off. He was recognized during his life as a poet of brilliance and elegance. He published 15 individual volumes of poetry but is probably best known for The Changing Light at Sandover, the trilogy based on sessions he and David Jackson spent at a Ouija board.
David Jackson was his lover for 40 years or more. Merrill was gay, an orientation understood by him from an early age. Hammer writes comprehensively of Merrill's gay life beginning in the years when homosexuality was misunderstood, stigmatized, and even illegal through the years of gradual acceptance and the AIDS epidemic. In fact, Merrill died of the disease. Hammer's narrative of the life fully incorporates what it meant to be a gay man during his lifetime, 1926-1995. The fact of his homosexual lifestyle and its importance in how he lived his life and how it affected his work is a major focus in the biography. Another is his huge network of friends which included Alice B. Toklas, W. H. Auden, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Bishop, and Larry Rivers. Merrill's friendship with each of them and others give Hammer the opportunity to write engagingly about almost everyone who knew Merrill and the nature of the friendship.
Life and art. A life in art. The biography of a major American poet where life as a gay man seems to be emblematic of gay life in America during the 2d half of the 20th century, it's also a work in which the chronicle of a life spanning so much of the century shines a light on many of the social and cultural events of our time. In the tradition of all-inclusive biographies of writers, Langdon Hammer's life of Merrill is an embodiment of the form....more
Probably more like a 4 and a half. This family saga of a sprawling Calcutta household doesn't make many allowances for the western reader and is thereProbably more like a 4 and a half. This family saga of a sprawling Calcutta household doesn't make many allowances for the western reader and is therefore the most Indian novel I've read in a while. Taking on many of India's social and political problems of the 1960s and 70s, its viewpoint is a dark one....more