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One of the twentieth century's great undisputed masterpieces, Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano includes an introduction by Michael Schmidt in Penguin Modern Classics. It is the fiesta 'Day of the Dead' in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac. In the shadow of the volcano, ragged children beg coins to buy skulls made of chocolate, ugly pariah dogs roam the streets and Geoffrey Firmin - ex-consul, ex-husband, an alcoholic and a ruined man - is living out the last day of his life. Drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him, the consul has become an enduring tragic figure. As the day wears on, it becomes apparent that Geoffrey must die. It is his only escape from a world he cannot understand. His story, the image of one man's agonised journey towards Calvary, became a prophetic book for a whole generation. Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957) was born and died in England. Between school and studying English at St Catherine's College, Cambridge he spent five months at sea as a deckhand, an experience which gave him the material for his first novel, Ultramarine (1933). After marrying in Paris, he moved to New York where he completed In Ballast to the White (1936). Under The Volcano was begun in Hollywood, coloured by a short stay in the Mexico that it describes, and eventually finished in Dollarton, British Columbia. If you enjoyed Under the Volcano, you might like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned, also available in Penguin Classics. 'A Faustian masterpiece' Anthony Burgess

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780141182254
ISBN-10: 0141182253
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 17mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Penguin Classics
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 3-Feb-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » First published in 1947, Lowry's masterpiece has been compared to Jacobean tragedy, Melville's Moby Dick, Conrad's Nostromo, Joyce Cary and James Joyce. Now issued with a new introduction by poet and publisher Michael Schmidt, this highly original novel is set in and around Cuernavaca, a town in the mountains near Mexico City, on the Day of the Dead, 1938. It is told entirely in flashback, after an opening chapter set on the same day in 1939, a simple device which has given the novel an unnecessary reputation for difficulty. It is in fact often very funny, and at times deeply romantic, as Lowry charts the decline and tragic death of the British Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic of gargantuan proportions. His younger brother Hugh, recently returned from fighting in Spain, is visiting, as is Firmin's estranged wife, Hollywood starlet, Yvonne. On one level, there is a touching story of doomed love, with sinister undertones of espionage, while on another, Lowry's use of symbolism and poetically heightened prose make the Consul and his fate echo that of Europe, poised to tumble into the abyss of World War II. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Here's another alcoholic nightmare told against a thoroughly knowledgeable background of Mexico, the people and the customs. Geoffrey Firmin's crowded life the world around slowly cracks through drink; not even his marriage to Yvonne, loyal but loved by his step-brother, Hugh, can save him. She leaves to get a divorce, while Geoffrey finds sympathetic cronies and old friends to accompany him from one binge to another. Yvonne's return, just as Hugh is leaving, brings about a new high in Geoffrey's drinking, and a new low in his hangovers. In futile altercation with the local police, Geoffrey is killed. Through the three central characters, there is the Joycean outpour of consciousness, a diarrhoeatic total recall, in the search for the cause of their rejection of life, in their rationalization of their self-portraits, in their knowledge of their griefs, despairs, bewilderment. Their casual, veiled conversations, wandering soul searchings, are highlighted against the Mexican setting, and the effect, sometimes with a brilliance, is a delirium of phantoms. For sophisticates. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Malcolm Lowry

Malcolm Lowry (1909 - 1957) was raised in England and died there but lived much of his troubled life semi-nomadically - in New York, Mexico and British Columbia.

Books By Author Malcolm Lowry

Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry


Paperback / softback, July 2005
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Under the Volcano

Paperback / softback,

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