Hamish's Reviews > Under the Volcano

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
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Nov 24, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: re-read-lit, lit
Read in April, 2008

Even better the second time through. The first time you read it you're aware the entire time that the Consul will die, but the mystery is how. The second time you read it, you know how the consul is going to die and you sit there and wonder at how you missed all that foreshadowing and wince at all of the signs of the inevitability of what will happen.

The irony of the book, though, is that the fate of the consul and Yvonne is not inevitable. Everything could have been so easily avoided if they would have simply said what they were thinking (or if the Consul were willing to stop Hamleting it up, even when facing his own death. Cowardice and inaction is another theme). Lowry is wonderful in his ability to paint their inner thoughts so vividly, and it's particularly painful to be aware of these thoughts and see that our heroes are so unwilling to express them. I would argue that this is the main theme of the novel.

Lowry is also particularly talented at creating mood and ambiance. And while he is very good at general descriptions, his principle shortcoming is his inability to describe specific things. I still have no idea what he was trying to portray at the end of chapter 11, the thing that Yvonne has to climb up. Nor was I able to make any sense of what Laruelle's house was supposed to look like. It all seems very clear in his mind, but he can't quite seem to make the image appear in the reader's mind. However, Lowry makes up for this with the life he imbues on his world. It is not simply a backdrop for the characters to walk across but a living, breathing entity. Everything inter-relates. Look at the way that the horse the Consul spooks in chapter 12 impacts Yvonne in chapter 11. Notice that when Laruelle watches a group of mourners walk down the hill at the beginning of chapter 1 and how he later passes one of them as she finally makes her way home when they both enter the town later on. It's this attention to detail that I think is the heart of great art. And whatever its flaws, this is truly a great novel that warrants multiple readings.

And it still has the greatest last sentence in all of literature (don't skip ahead to it though, you need to read the whole thing to get its full impact).
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by MariNaomi (new)

MariNaomi I like that in a man.

Hamish haha, that's my old review mari! i'll have a new one when i finish re-reading it, though this time i'd say that, knowing what's going to happen at the end, the whole book is one long punch in the face. in a good way.

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