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Under the Volcano ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (11)

I first read this one in college, at the urging of Joe Doggett and Guy Bolton, and I still can't decide, some twenty years later, whether I like it or not.  I do still maintain that it is not the equal of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the "great American novel of Mexico" category.

The Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, is an alcoholic living in Mexico.  He has divorced his wife, Yvonne, who had an affair with his half-brother Hugh, a journalist & supporter of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War.  Now Hugh & Yvonne have returned, separately, to visit him on the Day of the Dead.  By the end of the day, the Consul has been murdered by Mexican security forces who think he's a

I'm still not sure I understand what Lowry's trying to say, but I'll take a stab at it.  It seems that the Consul represents the West, paralyzed by neuroses and unable or unwilling to come to the aid of those in need.  The volcano of the title would seem to represent the specter of Fascism that looms on the horizon.  This image of impending doom recurs in the movie at the local theater, Los Manos De Orlac or The Hands of Orlac--the classic film about a pianist who receives a murderers hands in a transplant.  Orlac would be Germany, a great culture turned murderous.

Lowry does a great job of rendering this sense of doom and, in the Consul, gives us one of the great fictional portraits of a drunk in all of literature. However, the book ultimately adds up to less than the sum of it's parts.

GRADE: C- (or B+)


Grade: (C-)


Book-related and General Links:
    Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano
    The Malcolm Lowry Homepage
    -INTERVIEW : A conversation with Jan Gabrial : The one-time wife of brilliant, tortured novelist Malcolm Lowry discusses her controversial new memoir of their tempestuous relationship (Stephen Lemons, Salon)


To review a book and give away its ending in the first paragraph is a terrible thing to do. Very conceited as if to say now I have read it no-one else needs to. Personally I could see no great conspiracy theories or allegories of international dimension, just a simple story beautifully and minutely told of the last day in the life of an irredemable alcoholic.

- Derek D

- May-10-2006, 09:36


what does place of birth have to do with being an American?

- oj

- Jan-08-2006, 10:52


It's true, there is no way it could be the "great American novel of Mexico" since Lowrie was British by birth.

- MrB

- Jan-02-2006, 16:24