Under The Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry
Category: Fiction / General
376 pages; ISBN: 0-14-118225-3
Rating: 7/10 (Ratings explained)
When the introduction tells you that the novel took 8 years to write and promises that it makes sense on a FOURTH reading you know you're in for a tough time. However it is generally regarded as one of the classic post-war novels so should be worth the effort.
Let's start with the hard facts.The novel is set in the Mexican village of Quauhnahuac and has four main characters, Geoffrey Firmin an English "Consul" of sorts who is drinking himself to oblivion,his half-brother Hugh a vaguely Left -wing idealist,Geoffrey's estranged wife Yvonne and her erstwhile lover and childhood friend of Geoffrey's, Jacques.The first chapter sees Jacques preparing to leave Mexico on the Day of The Dead (2 Nov) 1939 and looking back to the events of the same day one year ago.
From thereon in you have to hack your way through a tangle of untranslated Spanish, allusions that range from Dostoyevsky to popular cinema,occult symbolism, hallucinations, two conversations running at the same time,thought and dialogue mashed up together and confused politics. The most objective aspect of the book is its physical setting,described precisely while Geoffrey's tortured mind wanders all over the place.
It's quite impossible to say what Lowry's real intentions were with this novel. Certainly he was an erudite alcoholic himself and his own experiences largely inform the relatively comprehensible chapter on Hugh. Is Geoffrey shouldering the twentieth century's agony and confusion like some latter-day Christ or is it an intensely individual drama from a man who saw out the war in a relatively safe part of the world ?
Such questions can't be answered in a short review.Make yourself a strong cup of coffee and give it a go.