The context for Malcolm Lowry's masterpiece, "Under the Volcano," is simple: a single day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin. It happens to be his last. The place is Quauhnahuac, Mexico, the day the Day of the Dead. As the locals... [more]
The context for Malcolm Lowry's masterpiece, "Under the Volcano," is simple: a single day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin. It happens to be his last. The place is Quauhnahuac, Mexico, the day the Day of the Dead. As the locals celebrate the souls of the deceased, Firmin (also known as "the Consul"), his brother Hugh, his ex-wife Yvonne, and a sinister Frenchman by the name of Jacques Laruelle embark on a fateful journey to the little town of Tomalin. A single journey that spreads into a thousand manic, tormented digressions -- such is the form that Lowry's meticulously crafted novel takes.
Concentrated within this single journey are a series of adventures as hilarious and enigmatic as those of Don Quixote. Indeed, Lowry's work displays a number of similarities with Cervantes' masterpiece. It is a dissertation on the nature of delirium, with all its attendant loftiness and squalor, and a demonstration of the powers of fiction, both insidious and resplendent.
Don Quixote overindulged in books about knights and consequently proceeded to live as if he were one. The Consul enjoys a similarly limitless appetite for alcohol, as well as a peculiar predilection for the mysticism of the Cabala. The result, in both cases, is the same: a delirium that condemns the hero to incessant ridicule and mockery but also illuminates the depravity of the world that opposes him.
With the help of a few necessary drinks, the Consul comports himself with astounding aplomb. The pack of demons that swarm in his interior, when fed the appropriate quantity of tequila and denied the nefarious mescal, become angels that bathe his every action in divine light. The hallucinations, excesses, and eccentricities of Lowry's hero, as with Cervantes', are the necessary elements in his quixotic success. These fictions reveal a reality more authentic than that of his sober companions.
But such success is always, and only, evanescent. Lowry's tale is tragic in the end. The Consul's delirious world is not sustainable. He has sunk so far below the level of everyday thought and perception that not even his ex-wife, who offers his only hope of salvation, can bring him back to the surface. In the end, the Consul's delirium is terminal, condemning him to a course that culminates ineluctably in disaster. But the tenor of this outcome is neither negative nor morose. As the Consul says, "The disaster might even be found at the end to contain a certain element of triumph." [show less]