British consul, Geoffrey Firmin, is living in Mexico in self-imposed exile, solitary and saturated with liquor. He was once happy, or maybe ne never was. He isn’t sure now that he’s too riddled by alcoholism to even put on his socks. But on this day, The Day of the Dead, 1938, he has a visitor. His wife Yvonne has come to rescue the consul from himself. Maybe she can persuade him to leave Mexico behind and start over with her. Maybe she can salvage their marriage, left in ruins by her string of affairs with Geoffrey’s two best friends – both of whom are there with him in Mexico. They can all try to save him but in the end it’s up to Geoffrey to decide whether he’s ready to start living again. All the while twin volcanoes loom over the city of Cuernavaca, silent, brooding and dark.
The Modern Library Best 100 Novels List puts Under the Volcano at number eleven, right behind The Grapes of Wrath. This is almost the only novel Malcolm Lowry ever wrote, and he knew the darkness of alcoholism on a personal level. This is one of the great novels but it’s more than that. It’s a human story. Never mind the ages of the characters, the exotic setting or the time in which the book was written. The story touches on universal truths which can reach all of us. It reached me.