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Under the Volcano

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  22,382 ratings  ·  1,480 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—his wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relationshi ...more
Paperback, Perennial Classic, 397 pages
Published April 26th 2000 by Harper Perennial (first published 1947)
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Toby I had the impression that he had stayed there at some point during the separation and simply left them behind. Wasn't there a question of his possibly…moreI had the impression that he had stayed there at some point during the separation and simply left them behind. Wasn't there a question of his possibly not having paid his bill last time he was there (implying he may have skipped out, leaving the letters behind)?(less)

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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Glenn Russell
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing

“Far above him a few white clouds were racing windily after a pale gibbous moon. Drink all morning, they said to him, drink all day. This is life!”
― Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Don't be fooled by the usual blurb on this novel telling you the story is about a British consul and his wife, his half-brother and his childhood friend. They are but bit players. This is a novel where the main character is liquor and how liquor turns human blood and the nerves of the human nervous system into trillio
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Literary Addiction

I first read Under the Volcano in 1968. At that confused cusp in time between teen aged idealism and adult cynicism, I had travelled to Cuernavaca in pursuit of my first love whose father had moved his family there - I was sure at the time, but mistakenly, in order to ensure his oldest daughter did not succumb to my inept entreaties. As it turned out I discovered that I liked her family more than I liked her. So the trip turned into a bit of a disaster.

So in an attempt at liter
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
A good word to describe 1947’s Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry is LANGUID. This is authentic rambling & genuinely just one loooong continuous drivel. All of it: sound and fury signifying… nothing. It’s a true pity that the book is so inaccessible, unreadable; it invites for some spontaneous skimming to occur, something a book must never inspire in its reader. The setting is magnificent, but certainly not unalike Henry Miller with his snooze-inducing masterpiece impostor “Tropic of Cancer,” th ...more
The Consul, an inconceivable anguish of horripilating hangover thunderclapping about his skull, and accompanied by a protective screen of demons gnattering in his ears, became aware that in the horrid event of his being observed by his neighbors it could hardly be supposed he was just sauntering down his garden with some innocent horticultural object in view. Nor even that he was sauntering. The Consul ... was almost running. He was also lurching. In vain he tried to check himself ...

The Consul.
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A true literary masterpiece.

This is minimalistic in scope but brilliantly complex and multi-layered in detail. The exceptional prose is interspersed with flashes of stream of consciousness and eclectic, almost poetic imagery.

The multiple references to Conrad were interesting, almost the flip side of Heart of Darkness as Lowry describes the inevitable collapse of a man and in metaphor, civilization.

Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
The truth is that most of the best books aren't part of any movement at all. Most of them don't need to be; they're just trying to tell you a story.

But when you talk about the story of literature, you end up inventing chapters - realism, modernism, gothics - because that helps you organize it. You give examples in each chapter, and so books that can be categorized into these movements end up over-represented in the story. And here we are with Under the Volcano which is not a very important book
Manuel Antão
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1981
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Buddhist Monk: "Under the Volcano" by Malcolm Lowry

(Original Review, 1981-03-15)

“The Consul reached forward and absentmindedly managed a sip of whisky; the voice might have been either of his familiars or - Hullo, good morning. The instant the Consul saw the thing he knew it an hallucination and he sat, quite calmly now, waiting for the object shaped like a dead man and which seemed to be lying flat on its back by his swimming pool, wi

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 flashbacks
Jun 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who “drive furiously through their anguish and all the red lights”
Recommended to Tara by: inkedblues
Shelves: 1001-list
Under the Volcano tells the indelibly haunting tale of Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul living in Mexico in 1938, assiduously drowning himself in alcohol. Like much of the desolate landscape, he is at times “so reconciled to [his] own ruin no sadness touches [him].” Make no mistake, this is a landscape crackling with danger and despondency: vivid, intractable, monstrous, divine. You find yourself gradually submerged in it. You’re flattened by the oppressive heat, wearied and worn down by ...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
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, 2019-read
Lowry's exploration of alcoholism is so haunting because the book's protagonist, the enigmatic consul Geoffrey Firmin, manages to convey the sources of his depression in a way that makes the descent into a mescal-filled stupor seem like the only reasonable reaction to the world's impositions. Set in Quauhnahuac, a fictional Mexican town overshadowed by two volcanoes (Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuat), on the Day of the Dead in 1938, we accompany the British consul on the last day of his life which h ...more
Feb 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic
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
Chavelli Sulikowska
Dizzyingly terrifying. A descent into fear. The very title, Under the Volcano, is both foreboding and indicative of the darkness that is to pass.

Lowrey’s modernist masterpiece is set in Mexico on day of the dead in the late 1930s. Taking place over a single day, it recounts the demise of Geoffrey, a lonely alcoholic ex-British consul, his estranged wife Yvonne and his half brother Hugh and the inter-tangled emotional mess that at once binds and separates them from each other.

This novel is imme
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Michael by: sckenda
I can see why many people love this book as a masterpiece. Now several weeks since I completed it, I still experience some potent emotional resonance over its hollow dance of life and its frustrating ambiguities on the locus of evil and purpose. I still expect to look up from the plane of my existence and see the twin volcanoes of its Oaxaca setting, glorious one moment, lonely or threatening the next. That is a good sign that the book has gotten under my skin and shaken me up. But my personal r ...more
May 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: around-the-world
Este libro era muy dificil.

I heard about this book when my friend Julie and I were in Oaxaca, Mexico back in the mid-80s. We had met a young man named Michael while there, and he showed us around Oaxaca and even took us to meet a Zapotec family in nearby Lacalulu.

It was All Soul's Day, and the women in the family were making tamales. Julie and I tried to stir the dough that was in a large caldron. She made it once around, and I could hardly move the spoon though the thick tamale dough. The wom
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 h
Dave Schaafsma
“How, unless you drink as I do, could you hope to understand the beauty of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?”

I am not an alcoholic, but I’ll admit, even now, when I rarely have more than a glass of wine a day, I remain intrigued by the great novels of alcoholism (and their often alcoholic authors). Maybe Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is not about alcoholism per se, but it is clearly about the booze-fueled destruction of the relationships between a group of friends. I think o
Ian "Marvin" Graye
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
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
Nov 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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 put a long story short :

Tragic figure, alcoholic British consul in Mexico, Geoffrey Firmin meets his ex-wife Yvonne and his brother Hugh on November 1, 1938, the Day of the Dead.


This is a story about stories. There are a lot of narratives in Under the Volcano, be they personal or international, and they all intermingle. The story structure itself borrows from several sources :

1. It is an adventure story, though most of it is set in the past (Hugh's voyages on the sea, Yv
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The magnificent novel was the product of ten years of work by Lowry. It takes place on a single day, the Day of the Dead 1938, on the eve of war, in Cuernavaca, Mexico--in the shadow of the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl--where the British Consul is drinking himself to death. His beloved wife has divorced him, but now returns to see if anything can be salvaged of their relationship, which is the hope of the book, and part of its tragedy.

Lowry's own alcoholism was prodigious, but his nov
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
Ade Bailey
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Liam Howley
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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Malcolm Lowry 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 wanderlust and err ...more

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