It is the day of the dead, November 2, 1938 and the last day on earth for Geoffrey Firmin, British consul to Mexico. As the faithful wend their way along the ancient streets of Quauhnahuac towards the cemetery, Firmin embarks on his own mescal-fueled journey to oblivion. His wife Yvonne and half-brother Hugh look on, powerless to help. Or are they complicit? Perhaps they hope to re-kindle an old love affair, long-dormant like the smoldering twin volcanoes Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl that loom above the town.
In 1998 the Modern Library ranked Under the Volcano as number eleven in their 100 best books of the twentieth century. I would place it even higher. Lowry writes with searing insight into one man’s complex psyche; Hamlet’s “how like an angel...how like a god” comes to mind. He chronicles one day, the last day, in the life of someone too sensitive to bear the burden of life any longer. With language that makes the reader savor every sentence, the consul’s meandering final hours come into crystalline-sharp focus despite his alcoholic haze. We see the world as he sees it and it is almost too much for us bear as well.
I am hardly able to contain myself whenever I confront someone who has not read Under the Volcano. Shoving the library’s paper-back edition into their hands, I shout: “You. Must. Read. This!” And I hope that they, too, can appreciate the awesome power of this book.
And you can reserve it here.