Reading Update: Halfway Through Under the Volcano

Halfway there! So far, Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry has been outstanding. It’s quite the depressing read, but Lowry’s writing and characterization is incredible. As for the plot so far, one of the things I have noticed is that it is very sparse in terms of actual plot events. For example, the main character Geoffrey, a.k.a. The Consul, at one point spends almost twenty pages simply having an idle chat with his neighbor while they do yardwork. He doesn’t really accomplish anything in doing so, and the reader might be left wondering what the point of the entire scene was, but that’s the point, or so I can tell. It’s not a novel about action, but rather introspection. It’s about gazing inwards, rather than outwards. What gets done, and not much has at this point, doesn’t matter. What matters is the inner conflict and anguished thoughts of the characters, as they lounge around, ride horses down nature trails, and generally just bathe in their own sorrow and depression.

So far from what I can tell about the book, one of the main themes is misunderstanding. None of the characters really seem to know each other, even family and close friends. Geoffrey’s doctor keeps nagging him about giving up his drinking habits, and the reader can clearly see, as is usually the case with severe alcoholism, that it’s nowhere near as easy as just putting down the whiskey and quitting.  His doctor, however, doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is for him. Hugh, his half-brother, is another good example of a disconnect between people and their understanding of each other. In one particular scene, written from Hugh’s point of view, the narrative makes frequent jumps between his rambling, aimless inner monologue and the conversation that he’s having with Geoffrey as he helps him shave. It’s very clear that Hugh is not at all engaged in the conversation, as when the book jumps back to his thoughts, his mind is occupied with something completely different and unrelated.

So, two-hundred pages in, I can already tell that this is an incredible book. It’s very character-driven, with almost no actual action to be spoken of, but Malcolm Lowry pulls that off masterfully, giving a detailed and incredibly sad portrait of his character’s inner struggles. Needless to say, I am highly enjoying this novel, and will probably place it very high in my rankings. The review should be up in about a week, see you then!

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