|Cuernavaca Mexico, the inspiration for the fictional town at the center of Under The Volcano.|
Under The Volcano (1947)
by Malcolm Lowry
I'm not a slave to chronology when it comes to the 1001 Books project, and I jumped to the mid 1940s so I could buy Under The Volcano in a Concord Massachusetts book store the day before I flew off to Mexico for a week. The thought of myself reading a paperback edition of Under The Volcano proved irresistible to me, and the fact that there was a brand new paperback edition of Under The Volcano sitting on the shelf in TWO SEPARATE random New England independent book stores (the other was in Exeter New Hampshire, and I actually bought a different book before buying Under The Volcano in Concord. The very availability of Under The Volcano even on the shelf in multiple bookstores is solid evidence that it is a solid-gold classic of Modern Literature.
The simple explanation of the popularity of Under The Volcano probably has to do with the combination of hard core alchoholism and the Mexican setting. Lowry himself was a huge alcoholic- the drink killed him- and Under The Volcano crackles with realism in that regard. There's also a cosmological/numerological aspect that manifests in the division of the book into twelve chapters happening over the course of a single dead, the "Day of the Dead."
Perhaps I was overly influenced by the experience of actually reading this book on the porch of a converted Hacienda/luxury hotel deep in the Yucatan jungle, but I couldn't argue with the idea that this one of the top novels of the 20th century, a combination of D.H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, with a foreshadowing of the post-colonial literature of the mid to late 20th century. It is a heady mix, and if you haven't gotten to Under The Volcano, you well ought to.