Under the Volcano

Malcolm Lowry

Finished on 15.05.2021

My thoughts

Introduction, setting, characters:
Set predominantly in a multitude of mexican towns and villages, all overshadowed by two large Volcanoes. The book takes place over a day, the day of the dead. The Chronology is a little shuffled but in essence the book begins with the main character's wife, Yvonne, returnturing to her husband Geoffrey Firmin following a long absence and an apparent divorce. Over the course of the day/night we see this situation from a number of perspectives as details of why Yvonne left are slowly revealed. Other Characters include M. Laruelle and Hugh, Geoffrey’s estranged childhood friend and half brother respectively. It becomes apparent that the Consul’s (Geoffrey’s) alcoholism is the fulcrum around which the narrative veeres. The setting itself is also a key character, the rise of faschism and the approaching war are constantly felt in the background.

Feeling/style: This book is like a dark and wild dream, or perhaps the first dimly recollected thoughts upon waking after a heavy night. The opening chapter emerges the reader into the crumbling world beneath the volcanoes and then slowly boils and stews away the reality to reveal the inner turmoil inside the characters. At times surreal, it never completely lets go of reality making the trials endured feel all the more visceral. Hot then cold, drenched in light then shadow and always soaked in Mezcal, the narrative lurches forwards then backwards. Time seems to be endless, and then suddenly whole conversations have been missed, the reader and the characters are constantly on the edge of sobering up or getting ¨tight¨. The way in which certain parts are written incredibly and terrifyingly depict the feeling of being drunk and alcoholism. 

Place: The Mexican landscape plays an important part in this book, lush, unforgiving and foriegn. Throughout the book the characters visit a number of places often returning many times to these same locations, but at different times and in a different states of mind. This builds a good mental map of the area and helps with locating the reader and giving them a sense of scale and place. There is a stark contrast between scenes where Yvonne and Hugh are galloping on horseback through the jungle  dreaming of fantasy homes, and the dark dingy inner monologues held in the tomb like cantina toilets by a desperate Geoffrey.

Characters: This is a book of rich, complex characters that are difficult to summarise. Throughout the narrative each of the main protagonists reveals to us their past. These ¨Flashbacks¨ tell us about their motives, and why the situation is as bad as it is. The Consul, perhaps, remains the biggest enigma in terms of actual character history but his emotional situation is the core of the book.

Summary: A glass of Anis on the rocks on a hot humid day in the mountains. A deep and fascinating read, at times confusing and disorientating but never anything less than gripping. A warning to people who think they know better and who meddle in the affairs of others. Needs to be re-read to be fully understood, like taking a second shot of Mezcal to clear the head.

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