All Souls

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that today is All Souls’ Day, when Christians offer prayers for the departed. To mark the occasion, The Guardian printed this excellent review by Chris Power of Malcolm Lowry’s modernist classic ‘Under the Volcano’, which is set in Mexico on the same day and follows the apocalyptic, alcoholic collapse of Geoffrey Firmin, a disgraced British consul.

I confess that ‘Under the Volcano’ defeated me when I tried to read it last year. I got about two thirds of the way through and lost interest, although it did engender in me a powerful need to constantly drink mescal (which I didn’t follow up on – probably for the best). After reading this review though, I’m determined to try again. Lowry writes with a powerful modernist lyricism, and expertly depicts the disintegration of a consciousness under immense stress. Lowry’s life was blighted by severe alcoholism, and it’s more than tempting to see Geoffrey Firmin’s collapse mirroring Lowry’s own, but the book offers more than just autobiographical or confessional interest. It’s not an easy read, but I suspect it’s an important one.

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