Monday, September 29, 2008

UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry

Lowry's Under the Volcano impresses me no more on this reading than it has on my previous readings. It still seems overwritten. It's as if during the course of his multiple revisions Lowry wrote the life out of the story. He's also guilty, like his literary godfather Herman Melville, of sledgehammer symbolism (i.e. symbols as subtle as sledgehammer blows), such as the pariah dog that follows the Consul around (and perhaps follows him down the ravine in the novel's last line). All in all, the novel doesn't live up to its reputation, and I don't consider it a great book. It might be the ruin of a great novel, as Lunar Caustic is the ruin of a great novella, but a writer of ruins doesn't equal a great writer. In Volcano's own terms, the book is a Maximilian's palace of a novel, a ruined refuge for its doomed, dreaming lovers.

It almost pained me to write the above, because I want to like Under the Volcano. Like Melville's Confidence Man, it's a work I'm predisposed to admire. But I can't admire it, and the fault, I'm convinced, lies not in myself but in the book. Interestingly, the two novels, otherwise so disparate, seem to have one major fault in common: both read like notebook dumps--padded, overwritten novels filled out with stories from the authors' notebooks. Many knowledgeable readers consider them great novels; this knowledgeable reader regretfully does not.

1 comment:

Mark Crawford said...

This knowledgeable reader recognizes some of the more obvious symbols and literary devices, but also the many more levels of subtle symbolism and political and religious allegory that are tied together in this work. Hugh, Yvonne and Laruelle represent reasons for living that are for Geoffrey intensely problematic; perhaps it is the principal protaganist who is "overwriting' what he experiences. In any case, I think it is a great book.