Under the Volcano (Perennial Classics)

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9780060955229: Under the Volcano (Perennial Classics)

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

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

Product Description:

The titles in the "Textplus" series, designed to reflect the changing nature of English Literature at advanced post-GCSE level, offer the complete text with a specially commissioned introduction and compact background notes placing the work in historical and critical context. Together, these components are intended to open up the text for students, allowing them to plot their own course of study, to plan extended projects, to compare writers' perspectives on similar themes and to relate works to key social and historical phenomena.

Review:

I think I know a good deal about physical suffering. But this is worst of all, to feel your soul dying. I wonder if it is because tonight that my soul has really died that I feel at the moment something like peace...Sometimes I am possessed by a most powerful feeling, a despairing bewildered jealousy which, when deepened by drink, turns into a desire to destroy myself by my own imagination--not at least to be the prey of--ghosts--
Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano, first published in 1947, is quite simply one of the great novels of the 20th century. Semi-autobiographical, and taking place during the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead in 1938, it recounts the last day in the life of the alcoholic ex-consul Geoffrey Firmin. Surrounded by the helpless presences of his ex-wife, his half-brother and acquaintances, he descends into a mescal-soaked purgatory, moving inexorably towards his tragic fate. His self-destructiveness reflects a spiritual struggle born of wilful abnegation and passivity, a depressed, existential acquiescence to the futility of positive action.

The story is simple, its manner of telling decidedly not: Lowry's style is dense, symbolic, allusive, the prose thick with resonance, and the structure complex, with flashbacks, abrupt shifts, and a gradual accumulation of information--it is a book that deserves reading and then rereading, for its pattern and subtleties reveal themselves only slowly. Firmin's story anchors the book's political ambience--the rise of Fascism and the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War lie heavily across its pages, and in turn make of Firmin not a character to be pitied but a representative figure of modernity. In this, Lowry's masterpiece has lost none of its power: it speaks to us of suffering and of loneliness, eliciting our compassion under the century's terrible shadow of mortality. --Burhan Tufail

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