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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, with a large sombrero over its face, to go away So the other had come again And now gone, he thought but no, not quite, for there was still something there, in some way connected with it, or here, at his elbow, or behind his back, in front of him now no, that too, wherever it was, was going perhaps it had only been the coppery tailed trogon stirring in the bushes, his ambiguous bird that was now departed quickly on creaking wings, like a pigeon once it was in flight, heading for its solitary home in the Canyon of the Wolves, away from the people with ideas. 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 Albert Finney in the 1984 film.Malcolm Lowry may be one of the best examples of the writer who has one and only one, so far as we can tell great novel in him I have to admit I had never heard of this novel prior to reading it a few years ago It blew me away What I remember best about it is the frighteningly realistic way in which Lowry conveys that the Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, is sickeningly drunk almost constantly, from his first drink in the morning until passing out at night Reading many of the passages made me feel I had a horrible drunk on myself, just barely conscious, not able to think clearly, my mind alternately racing and stopped dead Lowry, who was himself an alcoholic, somehow contrived this unbelievably realistic way of writing of the consul s inner world in what might be called a stream of drunkenness style the Consul nodded desperately, removing his glasses, and at this point, the Consul remembered, he had been without a drink nearly ten minutes the effect of the tequila too had almost gone He had peered out at the garden, and it was as though bits of his eyelids had broken off and were flittering and jittering before him, turning into nervous shapes and shadows, jumping to the guilty chattering in his mind, not quite voices yet, but they were coming back, they were coming back.If you haven t read the book, you owe it to yourself to check it out, but be forewarned you may not take another drink for awhile It is often mentioned on lists of the twentieth century s greatest novels view spoiler I swear I haven t done this, but if you Google something like greatest novels of the twentieth century , and then examine lists which might come up, I ll bet you a drink what else that Under the Volcano is on most of them hide spoiler #READ E-PUB í Under the Volcano Ù 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 Relationship To The Brink Of Collapse She Is Determined To Rescue Firmin And Their Failing Marriage, But Her Mission Is Further Complicated By The Presence Of Hugh, The Consul S Half Brother, And Jacques, A Childhood Friend The Events Of This One Significant Day Unfold Against An Unforgettable Backdrop Of A Mexico At Once Magical And Diabolical Under The Volcano Remains One Of Literature S Most Powerful And Lyrical Statements On The Human Condition, And A Brilliant Portrayal Of One Man S Constant Struggle Against The Elemental Forces That Threaten To Destroy Him . 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, nor as good a read as, say, The Street by Ann Petry, but which nonetheless keeps making it onto syllabi Mostly it s an attempt to relocate Ulysses to Mexico and drown it in mezcal.Which is not to say that any book belonging to a recognizable movement is bad That would be a silly thing to say Woolf is great Even Ulysses is great, although it suffers from sortof a Pulp Fiction problem it was so innovative and powerful that it spawned a legion of doppelgangers, most of which are unnecessary, like Under the Volcano. It s not Ulysses fault but you sortof blame it anyway.Anyway Malcolm Lowry is certainly shitfaced on modernism here Switching perspectives like a drunk guy switching excuses for his limp dick Making sure that you ll start each paragraph thinking, Wait, what I can explain the plot though, don t worry So can Lowry, actually, here s his explanation it s A kind of opera or even a horse opera It is hot music, a poem, a song, a tragedy, a comedy, a farce, and so forth The shit averse Michael Schmidt, in his introduction, correctly interprets this Fortunately, he says, In the teeth of such nonsense, it can be regarded as a novel Well, barely Malcolm Lowry doing his thingHere s what happens, with minor spoilers Geoffrey Firmin is a minor diplomat in Mexico whose wife Yvonne has left him because he drinks too much She comes back for one last try on the Day of the Dead but he ignores her to drink all day She s fucked every man in this story huh and she ends up hanging out with his brother Hugh all day, whom she s fucked Perspectives shift between them and the chapters each correspond to an hour of the day The landscape is hellish we pass by dead dogs, a dead tortoise, a bald boy swinging madly in a hammock At the end, major view spoiler Geoffrey is shot by a random lowlife the shot spooks a horse nearby who tramples Yvonne to death hide spoiler 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. A good word to describe 1947 s Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry is LANGUID This is authentic rambling genuinely just one 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, the uglification of Mexico is as abhorrent ridiculous as the descriptions of rancid Paris in Tropic There is not one single sentence clever enough, beautiful enough, even at all special or pretending to be special Lowry decides to produce one of the only books that I can think of that is totally devoid at least ONE special, one poetic sentence It s that horrible The eternal sorrow that never sleeps of great Mexico this certainly is a promise left unfulfilled We get nasty descriptions which repeat endlessly, all in a headache inducing loop, just as the brain of a drunkard reels about Aimlessness murkiness, being inside the mind of a drunk without being drunk ourselves is a total bust This is that overly typical story of the crazy gringo well, a displaced British Consul, actually getting tight on a Mexican holiday, the unintentionally un symbolic Day of the Dead, boozing on mescal and myriad other liquors which appear before him like mirages in the wild Why are stories with roaring drunks in em so critically lauded I REALLY don t get it Unlike Hunter S Thompson s The Rum Diary, or any of the innumerable American plays by Arthur Miller, by Eugene O Neill, by Edward Albee you know exactly the tragic type this one makes it hellish for the reader himself poor poor guy to really delve into the novel into the awful sways and malicious deviations from a proper plot and proper character portrayals It s insipid, it s a novel which transpires one fateful day but feels like one l o n g, sad weekend actually, like an entire week of swimming in alcohol like a booze hound Although considered one of the bonafide towering achievements of the 20th century, it is indeed novels like this one which make one glad that that century is long gone. 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 with Consul, Hugh and Yvonne, we wander around the world, traversing countries and cultures, their history, myths and poetry.The city spread out at the foot of two volcanoes, streets and buildings remembering better times, not only the Consul s but much earlier, the Spanish explorers The city with ruins of Maximilian s Palace, where yet still seem to wander the ghosts of his ill fated love for Carlotta Narrow and winding streets that Consul, stupefied in scorching heat, like in somnambulistic transe, alternately drunk, sober and hung over, traverses from cantina to cantina, chased by demons and hallucinations.The narration is jerky and chaotic, full of complaints, remorse, memories, monologues Words are flowing and flowing One can readUnder the Volcanoas a record of extreme alcoholism, self destruction, as a human one way journey As a record of a one day, the last one in fact from Consul Geoffrey Firmin s life, the day in which Consul reached the end of the line, marked gradual plunge into darkness, alcohol, exploration of absolute But it is also a story of love Consul and Yvonne, their separation and her return on fiesta day Her desperate attempt to save Consul from himself and stick that what is irrevocably broken How one can help other man, contrary to him Is it really possible such a thing, to save anyone But one can look at the novel as an allegory of the fall Of a man, but also the world and civilization Not only by invoking the ruins of Maximilian s Palace and statues of ancient conquistadors on the squares of the city or devastated garden, like a parody of paradise from which lovers were exiled But also by reference to the time of action November 1938, there is not much time left when world will plunge into madness of war Images that Lowry creates are painfully suggestive so that in the end we seem to lose orientation, we wonder if it is still Mexico whether delirium, is it heat or maybe hangover. 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 VolcanoDon 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 trillions of tiny colorful skulls, each skull with a mouthful of shinning white teeth chewing up the host human and, in turn, his relations with everything and everybody Most appropriately, Malcolm Lowry set his novel in Mexico during the Day of the Dead In the bathroom the Consul became aware he still had with him half a glass of slightly flat beer his hand was fairly steady, but numbed holding the glass, he drank cautiously, carefully postponing the problem soon to be raised by its emptiness The Consul there is a tincture of humor in the narrator continually referring to him by his official title is an alcoholic, thus, his one central problem is the inevitable empty glass all those legions of tiny colorful skulls need alcohol to maintain their bright red, blue, green, yellow, black, orange, white colors so they can keep their sharp teeth chomping.The Consul speaks, I am too sober I have lost my familiars, my guardian angels I am straightening out, he added, sitting down again opposite the strychnine bottle with his glass In a sense what happened was a sign of my fidelity, my loyalty any other man would have spent this last year in a very different manner At least I have no disease, he cried in his heart, the cry seeming to end on a somewhat doubtful note, however And perhaps it s fortunate I ve had some whiskey since alcohol is an aphrodisiac too One must never forget either that alcohol is a food Famous last words for an alcoholic It s fortunate I ve had some whiskey not only fortunate, but completely necessary, thus, my observation, the real main character in this Malcolm Lowry novel is liquor All of the alcoholics I ve had the misfortune to come into contact with nobody in my immediate family, thank goodness have likewise surrendered their blood, vital organs and nervous system to those chomping skulls Every day is the Day of the Dead around the globe for millions of alcoholics drinking under their personal volcano.A reader of Lowry s novel will find enough references, both direct and indirect, to Dante, Faust and Lost Eden as well as Christ, Don Quixote and Oedipus, but, from my reading, all of these allusions and suggestions, signs and symbols, codes and enigmas, are filtered through the alembic of Consul Geoffrey Firmin s liquor glass, bestowing a particular flair to the well worn citation through a glass darkly, words depicting our less than omniscient manner of seeing and understanding.To conclude on an up note, one of my favorite scenes is when Geoffrey, his former wife Yvonne and his half brother Hugh attend a bullfight Hugh jumps in the arena We read It was Hugh Leaving his coat behind he had jumped from the scaffolding into the arena and was now running in the direction of the bull from which, perhaps in jest, or because they mistook him for the scheduled rider, the ropes were being whipped as by magic, Yvonne stood up the Consul came to his feet beside her Good Christ, the bloody fool The second bull, no indifferent as might have been supposed to the removal of the ropes, and perplexed by the confused uproar that greeted his rider s arrival, had clambered up bellowing Hugh was astride him and already cake walking crazily in the middle of the ring God damn the stupid ass the Consul said.A nearly 400 page novel and, for me, that was the up note, since, when it comes to alcoholics and alcoholism, there is really very little of what could be considered up quite to the contrary, it is either down or very far down or all the way down. Literary AddictionI 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 than I liked her So the trip turned into a bit of a disaster.So in an attempt at literary therapy I threw myself into Lowry, who satisfied my romantic needs on several levels First, he turned the city itself into something of a post colonial paradise that was insulated from the cares of the world and its physical necessitiesThe eternal sorrow that never sleeps of great Mexico,exactly matched my own depressive mood As I tried to follow Lowry s Ulysses like travels around the city, I could see the pervasive poverty of Cuernavaca as quaint the rubbish tip of its central ravine as a melancholy barranca and entrance to the underworld the obvious Mexican racism as an easy co existence of Spanish American and European culture alongside that of the still visible Aztec, Olmec, Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations Mexico s sadness became bearable.And although a problem shared in this case an immature affair of the heart may not be a problem halved, it certainly allows for the serotonin like effects of Schadefreude However badly I was feeling, I wasn t, like Lowry s Geoffrey, drinking myself into paranoid oblivion nor, like his brother, Hugh, was I gripped by terminal guilt nor, as his wife, Yvonne, was I in the grip of an Electra or Oedipal fixation And, despite my sadness, I hadn t lost it as we said in those days, referring to the elusive mental self, as had the Consul whoseequilibrium, and equilibrium is all, precarious balancing, teetering over the awful unbridgeable void, the all but unretraceable path of God s lightning back to GodIn the scheme of things, I was getting off fairly lightly Finally, it was clear to me that Under the Volcano was referencing many things about which I had not the slightest clue people, places, and events not to mention vocabulary and cognate puns which Lowry knew about and I didn t were integral to his story But I also knew he was using them as symbols These things were deeply meaningful than they appeared on the surface And I had to learn about them in order to understand life at least the life that Lowry described Call it hope through lack of understanding Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, which I could see from my bedroom window within the walls of The Family Compound , for example, took on a significance that was simultaneously mysterious but concretely other than mere mountains They pointed elsewhere to hidden meanings, and therefore to my own youthful ignorance and what really did happen in the bunker This was liberating since it distracted me entirely from the issue of lost love.In short, Lowry helped me to grow up Just at the moment I needed some way out of an emotional dead end he showed up with his posse of flawed characters in another worldly world I moved, however incrementally, from a state of emotional distress to one of imaginative possibility Once that happens, for good or ill you re hooked Life without Lowry s kind of writing is impossible thereafter Oh well, I suppose there are worse addictions just as Lowry suggests This is an issue that largely has been solved by the internet An indispensable guide to the book is publicly available and makes all Lowry s references and allusions clear