Reviews of Under the Volcano (1947)
Review by kiwi (2006-12-26)
‘Under the Volcano’ is an exceptionally moving and powerful story which I consider by far to be the greatest book I have read, a conclusion which I came to just a few chapters into the book.
‘Under the Volcano’ is set in the town of Quauhnahuac in Mexico, on the Day of the Dead, 1938. The plot follows alcoholic ex-consul Geoffrey Firmin during the course of the day, along with his wife, Yvonne, half-brother, Hugh, and friend Jacques Laruelle. As Lowry himself has stated, this novel can be read and understood in countless ways, from an account of the consciousness of an alcoholic to an allegory of European politics in the 1940s. I found this story to be an incredibly profound statement on what it means to be human; a story about oppression, love, death, destruction and compassion, and all things in between. Lowry simply and effortlessly evokes a sense of humanity, without clumsiness, pomposity or excessive sentimentality. Lowry’s prose often has the remarkable effect that in particular phrases or sentences, the reader is able to intuitively feel a meaning or significance infinitely greater than is contained in the words.
‘Under the Volcano’ is not a particularly difficult book, but the theme in itself precludes it from the category of ‘light reading’, and it requires considerable patience to navigate some of the extremely long, descriptive sentences. It is also layered with great depths of symbolism ranging from the obvious to the obscure; however, I did not find that understanding the entire multitude of symbols and references was necessary for a meaningful and enjoyable experience of the novel. I cannot overstate the impact that this book has had on me, and I would strongly encourage everyone who enjoys powerful and masterful literature to read this.