Sunday, 7 September 2014

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaux. 

This line is quite nondescript. The mention of a republic only mildly interests as it suggests a setting. The mountains might be a metaphor. Reading the rest of the first paragraph we learn of two volcanoes:

Overlooking one of these valleys, which is dominated by two volcanoes, lies, six thousand feet above sea-level, the town of Quauhnahuac. It is situated well south of the Tropic of Cancer, to be exact, on the nineteenth parallel, in about the same latitude as the Revillagigedo Islands to the west in the Pacific, or very much farther west, the southernmost tip of Hawaii – and as the port of Tzucox to the east on the Atlantic seaboard of Yucatan near the border of British Honduras, or very much farther east, the town of Juggernaut, in India, on the Bay of Bengal.

By the fourth paragraph we are introduced to some characters, one of which is drinking something that reminds him of absinthe. Page 1 is nicely written with description that sets the scene, so on the plus one can assume that one is in the capable hands of a writer.

First thing said:

‘ –I meant to persuade him to go away and get déalcoholisé.’

There is conflict that is eventually revealed but having to wade through the geography and description first to get to a hook is asking a lot from a reader. The writing is great but it reminds me of those "where's the beef?" commercials. Only I shout out: Where's the story?

Verdict: Fail

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Under the Volcano is 81st best.

Theodore Moracht

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