Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Under the Volcano ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

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, things have gone badly sideways for the Consul.

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-)


Malcolm Lowry Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Malcolm Lowry
    -ESSAY: On Malcolm Lowry’s Yearslong, Fruitless Attempt to Adapt Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night for Film: Michael Melgaard on the 455-Page Screenplay That Never Was (Michael Melgaard, September 15, 2022, LitHub)

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)