Thursday, 20 October 2016

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

"He is profoundly ambivalent, as his prayers show, for when he prays to be reconciled with Yvonne he also prays to be alone, and when he wants to rise he asks that he may sink still lower."

What to say about a novel that took me so long to read ( seriously, 66 days). It felt like forever in any case. The cause of my dilemma, the thick prose- so many words crammed into a page, the drama of work and life and everything in between. It probably was not the best time to embark on a novel about a tortured relationship and the way in which alcohol can take over your life. There were times this month, when I though the action of the book had somehow spilled into reality, but I mopped that up - or at least I think I did.

At first, I wanted to hate this novel. Finishing it was torturous for me. I just needed some light hearted escapism in my life ( hence why I've finished so many Agatha Raisin books in the interim) and yet I persevered. Upon reflection, while it is not an easy book to read, it is expertly realised and I'm still thinking about it days after I'd put it down. I would say that is the reason for its critical acclaim. That and the sense of achievement you get from finishing it & despair at the ending.

It is amazing that the action takes place over such a short period when so much internal and actual drama occurs and that on reflection, is some of its brilliance. "But who could agree with someone who was so certain you were going to be sober the day after to-morrow?". There is no hope for the Consul, his estranged wife can never contemplate the internal struggles, the bargaining that goes on inside his addicted brain and he is doomed. She is such a tragic figure, living and dying on the fumes of what might have been.

If we look around the crazy world of the novel, is it not the crazy world of today? Is the alcoholic, in some ways, a realist, recognising the torment the world is in and reaching for escape  in a bottle? 
I'm not sure; that being said, if this novel didn't lead me to drink, it certainly upped my quotient. Death and destruction under the gaze of the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, and throw in a whole heap of Mescal for good measure.

4 out of 5 drinks could be your last and the dog's too.

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