Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1907 to 1957, England) is a great work of art, an incredible depiction of one day in the life, November 2, 1938, The Day of the Dead in Mexican culture, of a very alcoholic British counsel in a small backwater Mexican town. Ten years in the making, it draws on everything from Greek drama, Shakespeare, James Joyce, Mexican Mythology, popular movies and music. Above all it is an alcohol driven work, featuring strongly the local drinks of tequila and mescal. These cactus based drinks produce a different state of mind than the grain based drinks the counsel and other Europeans and Americans experienced before moving to Mexico, more psychedelic than just a depressive drink. This is the Mexico of noir westerns, of D. H. Lawrence. Everybody in the story is pretty much drunk most of the time. Indians and colonialism play a large part in the novel.
The story line, told in twelve chapters, from the prospective of alternative narrators, focuses on the personal life of the British Counsel, who has no official work, his relationships with his ex- wife, his half-brother, others in the town, people in the bars but most of all with his true love, alcohol.
To me much of the great pleasure in the book is in the exquisite prose, beautiful almost to the point of pain. It was not easy for me to follow at all times the plot action, but it is fun to try. I thought who cares if the plot makes full sense if the writing is so amazing. Lowry paints a picture of a dark world, a town under the shadow of two volcanoes.
After reading recently “The Wasteland” I am seeing more and more literary treatments of ruined worlds, wasted lives.
Under the Volcano is considered one of the greatest post WW Two novels. This book cries out to be reread as I plan next year.
The edition I have has an introduction by Stephen Spender, read it after finishing the book. William Vollmann provides an afterward.