05 January 2021

Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

 Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965.

I've been trying to read this, according to the Tigers-Royals ticket from 22 July 2000 used as a bookmark, for at least twenty years; I've made three previous attempts, and gotten maybe three chapters into the work. It is perhaps the most difficult piece of fiction I have ever read.


 I have not read Finnegan's Wake; Ulysses was enough James Joyce’s Ulysses is also the most comparable work I can bring to mind, although Volcano reminded me more of James Agee's Death in the Family. The perspectives and the detail, the story itself with interaction between equal characters -- these are all fresh, but sufficiently familiar, to be recognizable literature.


The language, though -- that is Joycean. Our main character -- can't call the Council a protagonist, because he doesn't want anything, doesn't change, isn't even an anti-hero, just a broken drunk -- well, he's a broken drunk living in Mexico. I've never felt such a accurate portrayal of intoxication (or, even greater achievement, being a drunk) in writing. It's Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend as stream of consciousness rather than reporting, and the sensations are almost something one must have experienced to understand. Yet Lowry makes it possible, with an effort on our part, to share that most personal, private perspective, and by the end, offers an incredible experience.


Best read with a bottle of Mescal.

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