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Publisher's Summary

On the Day of the Dead, in 1938, Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic and ruined man, is fatefully living out his last day, drowning himself in mescal while his former wife and half-brother look on, powerless to help him. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical.
©1947 Peter Matson (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"The book obviously belongs with the most original and creative novels of our time." (Alfred Kazin)
"One of the towering novels of [the twentieth] century." ( New York Times)
"[Lowry's] masterpiece...has a claim to being regarded as one of the ten most consequential works of fiction produced in this century...." ( Los Angeles Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    64
  • 4 Stars
    44
  • 3 Stars
    43
  • 2 Stars
    37
  • 1 Stars
    19

Performance

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    64
  • 4 Stars
    43
  • 3 Stars
    23
  • 2 Stars
    19
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    14

Story

  • 3.5 out of 5 stars
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    51
  • 4 Stars
    35
  • 3 Stars
    35
  • 2 Stars
    23
  • 1 Stars
    17
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Melinda
  • Shoreline, WA, United States
  • 12-07-10

Excellent...but not for everyone

I loved this story of a day-long drunken binge told from 3 different viewpoints, but I know that not everyone liked it (ask my book club)...but I thought it was classic. It gets tough in some places, but I found Under the Volcano to be a wonderful tale in a vast desert of somewhat underwhelming books. 5 stars for writing and 5 stars for narration.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Meh

I'm sure this book is a classic but it sure didn't feel like one when listening to it. The narration was droopy, inarticulate and lacked variety between the characters. The storytelling itself is best absorbed when reading the novel.

It was very apparent one chapter into this book that it was going to be confusing, troubling and overall not that enjoyable.

Save yourself the listen. Buy the book instead.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great book, slightly flawed narration

It took me awhile to warm up to this book. For the first hour or two I seriously considered quitting it but I'm glad I didn't. It gets more and more beautiful and more tragic with every chapter. The symbolism and metaphors build on themselves and the descriptions flow smoothly into plot. The literary references (the ones I actually caught) are fun and add another layer of meaning to the story. By the end I was sitting in my driveway long after arriving home entranced with the story. Stick out the beginning, it's worth it!

The narration was great except that the Lee's Spanish pronunciation leaves a *lot* to be desired. Understanding the bits that are in Spanish isn't key to understanding the book but I found it distracting to hear the pretty blatant mistakes. Other than that though, it's a really, really well-done production.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 11-23-14

Great Prose, Too much drunk guy

This is the story of one day, the Day of the Dead, of a British drunk in Mexico. The prose of this book are, at points, sublime and the imagery and characterizations are strong, but I did not really like any of the characters, and the story was not compelling to me. The portrait of the drunken main character is quite realistic and both compelling and repellant.

I have never read the short story this novel was based upon, but I suspect, as a short story, this would be wonderful. Stretched into a novel, was too much drunk guy for my taste.

John Lee reads these prose with the intensity of poetry with a rhythm and power, but does not do the Spanish justice.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Barry
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 09-25-12

There sure is a lot of symbolism

I don't know if there's any way to express my disappointment with this book that doesn't involve spoilers, so I'll start with what I liked about it. Lowry does an awesome job of delineating his characters. Their attitudes and feelings are completely understandable and realistic. Lowry's use of imagery, motifs, and symbolism are masterful. He builds his story layer by layer with rising intensity right up to the end. The story that he tells--of a man bent on destroying himself--is compelling in an existential sort of way. So why, when all is said and done, do I feel less than satisfied with the book as a whole? That is a question I suppose I will be pondering for a long time.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

challenged narrator . . .

Many books contain passages in more than one language. John Lee, a reader I have liked before now, should restrict himself to narrating books written entirely in English. His Spanish pronunciation is . . . excecrable. Malcolm Lowry's text deserves better.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • W.Denis
  • Savannah, GA, United States
  • 05-05-09

Be prepaired

I will listen to John Lee read any book and when I investigated the history and Author I was set for a great experience. I am also quite sensable to an alcoholics recovery process and this book would be an excellent AA case study. That said, I often found myself listening to long descriptive sections and wishing the author would get on with the story. Because this is said to be an epic novel I was reluctant to miss anything. I certainly learned a lot about Mexico in the mid-thirties. Be prepared to listen diligently and perhaps you will come away more intheusiastic than I am.

11 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • McDonough
  • Salt Lake City, UT, United States
  • 09-13-11

Get a Different Edition

For the first time in my life I couldn't finish a book. To say that the performance by John Lee is unlistenable is, in my opinion, giving the performance too much credit. For a story that utilizes as much Spanish you'd think that the performer would be able to put together more than a slurred Italian interpretation. I'd rather listen to Brad Pitt read Cormac McCarthy.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

splashes of exquisite writing

I do not have the fortitude to wade through the depression and troubles-of-life-and-the-world angst that constitute the main body of this work to get to the writing gems buried like diamonds deep within it. I know many cognoscenti all but revere this book. Maybe I'd agree if I could work my way through it but I am no longer convinced that the only way to write great literature is to convulse in difficulty and misery. Not enough light here in this writing.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

In the shadow of the abattoir.

Having lived in Mexico for a year, much of the novel hit home as the life of an expat requires accepting certain assumption that one is invulnerable in some cases because of your foreign status, particularly if you are a Westerner, and absolutely vulnerable in others for precisely the same reason. Such is the case of our main characters, both British and American, who possess the cavalier attitude of colonizers living abroad as if they own everything yet seemingly tone death to their own foreign vulgarity.

The novel is set in 1938 and 1939, as the world ramps up for war and where fascists and communists compete against each other and democracy. These competing philosophies play out in miniature in the attitudes and actions of both primary and secondary characters.

This book was set in the time of John Steinbeck's non-fiction work Sea of Cortez and both books demonstrate the clash of western modernity with the primitive traditions of the indigenous populace. As the Day of the Dead provide a backdrop for the story, the fate of the characters within context of the tradition juxtaposes these realities.

It is difficult to sympathize for the main characters as their sufferings seem to be mostly self inflicted and medicated through rampant alcoholism. As Lowry himself was a raging alcoholic, perhaps his writing was a duality of flagellation and self pity. Regardless, it is beautifully written and memorable.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • T
  • 02-20-14

brilliant book, but beware of the narration

Often voted one of the greatest books of the 20th Century, this book should not disappoint. Unfortunately in my case, it did somewhat because John Lee's narration was so very poor when reading the many places and phrases in Spanish/Mexican. John has a great voice and his style suits sci-fi particularly well, but he desperately needed coaching before taking this one on.

That said, please do what you can to ignore the pronunciation issue because the story itself is very rewarding. Under The Volcano is cleverly constructed, rich in symbolism and literary references - which is why I had put off reading the book, as it sounded intimidating! Thankfully this is not the case and it can be enjoyed simply as an extraordinary tragedy, lightened with great humour and wit. And I'll listen again and hope to get more of the literary stuff!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful