Thursday, September 15, 2011

#44 - "Under the Volcano" by Malcolm Lowry

After three long weeks, I've finished number 45 from The List, Malcolm Lowry's 1947 novel, Under the Volcano.  There are a few reasons it took me so long to read this book; I've been doing some non-ficition reading and, it just wasn't my favorite book.

Under the Volcano is the story of Geoffery Firmin, a British Consul in Mexico, an alcoholic, and estranged from his wife Yvonne.  After being seperated for over a year, Yvonne has returned to Mexico in the hopes of rekindling their relationship, but is confronted with difficulties arising from the Consul's drinking and the appearance of his brother, Hugh, with whom she had a brief several years prior.

While both of them desire a reconcilliation, these other problems seem to be an unsurmountable obstacle, preventing them from ever being together again.  The Consul, capable of, but unwilling, to curb his drinking, and Yvonne's distraction from Hugh's presence, make it impossible.  As the day unfolds, and the Consul descends deeper and deeper into an alcoholic haze of despair and self-pity, the trio's worlds crumble.

So often, Lowry's descriptions left me depressed and uncomfortable, with both the surroundings and the characters.  I guess this was the intent however, as Lowry describes a day in the life of Firmin, a day that spirals slowly, but surely, to an inevitable, tragic ending.  But I don't think it was the depression that made this a long read for me; so many good books are depressing, in fact most are.  It was just that sometimes that long, drawn out fall toward tragedy was, quite frankly, a little tedious.  Malcolm Lowry himself decribed the book as "...superficial, profound, etertaining, and boring, according to taste."  I guess I know which camp I fall under.

But looking back at this book, I did appreciate it.  There were times when I was truly gripped by the writing.  But too often, I'd begin to lose interest as the situation was dragged out for a few dozen more pages.  It wasn't that it was bad, it was just very slow, and at times, very dry.

I began reading this book while I was in Mexico, and somehow felt more attached to it, as if I was somehow better able to appreciate a book set in pre-war Mexico, because I was sitting by the pool at a resort in 2011.  Upon returning to Calgary, I felt I had lost some connection to the book.  Of course as I write this, it doesn't really make any sense, but that's how I felt.

You can read Time Magazine's orginial review from February 24, 1947 here.

My next book is going to be Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth.  Roth is one of eight authors on The List with two books, and I've planned to read at least one from each, before I hit number 50.  After Portnoy's Complaint, I'll only have Orwell left, which means I'll need to read Animal Farm in the next few books.


  1. Yes...this was a bit tedious to get through, and quite depressing. Certainly not one of my favorites. My review:

  2. I like your word...miserable. But as you mentioned in you review, "I should have hated it. Somehow I didn't." This is exactly how I felt!