2009: 106. Under the Volcano

“Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus.”

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

      This is not my kind of book, so while I appreciate the skill in writing it (and it is undeniably well written) I was left appreciating it, but not loving it.  Yet another casualty in my ongoing battle with Modernist writing, I guess. Although, one of the things I really liked about Under the Volcano is that Lowry pulls out all the tricks of your James Joyces (i.e., stream of consciousness type using of language to capture the mind and personality of his characters, telling the story of a life in day), he does in service of a real plot, and to make characters who are real people, not just tricks on a page (his ability to capture the characters and the setting is reminiscent of oh, Conrad - this book is very reminiscent of Conrad).  Which actually makes the fancy writing much more accessible than some other classics, and his ability to be pull from both the modern and the naturalistic grab bag shows that Lowry was one of the most skilled novelists around.  It’s an absolutely impressive achievement, and one I appreciated whole heartedly.

     But why I appreciated and didn’t love had less to with the amazing writing than the fact that this is just not my kind of story.  It’s the story of an alcoholic British consul, wasting his life away in Mexico in the 1930s, and his wife, who has divorced him, but come back to try to save him, and his idealistic young brother, and their relationships, and of Mexico and the Mexican countryside, but mostly of a man drinking himself to death.  And it’s just a little bleak for me. It’s fair to suggest that I don’t like it because it’s too good and too real - I’ll agree that might be part of it, but it’s just not my kind of thing.*

*Also, sorry, there was too much scenery and too much “Mexico standing in for Firman and his woes” which really isn’t my thing.  Too much description of what it’s like to be drunk in the melancholy Mexican bars, and how it is to ride the dusty bus, and to attend the bullfights and all that, which served to distance me from the characters and the story.

Date/Place Completed:  August 2009; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100, Book Resolutions



© Carrie Dunsmore 2017