Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
published 1947 chapter 2 & chapter 12
The bar was empty however.
Or rather it contained one figure. Still in his dress clothes, which weren’t particularly dishevelled, the Consul, a lock of fair hair falling over his eyes and one hand clasped in his short pointed beard, was sitting sideways with one foot on the rail of an adjacent stool at the small right-angled counter, half leaning over it and talking apparently to himself, for the barman, a sleek dark lad of about eighteen, stood at a little distance against a glass partition that divided the room… didn’t have the air of listening… Geoffey… was, she noticed, wearing no socks…
[later, at a different bar] He was safe here; this was the place he loved – sanctuary, the paradise of his despair. [The barman is reading a comic book]. As he read, muttering to himself, he ate chocolates. Returning another replenished glass of mescal to the Consul he slopped some on the bar. He went on reading without wiping it up, however, muttering, cramming himself with chocolate skulls bought for the Day of the Dead, chocolate skeletons, chocolate, yes, funeral wagons.
observations: November 1st is the feast of All Saints, November 2nd is the day of All Souls. In Mexico this is a time of remembrance but also fiesta, and over both days families visit cemeteries, think of the dead, and also celebrate with skull- and skeleton-shaped decorations and sweets.
The action of Under the Volcano takes place on the Day of the Dead in the late 1930s, and it is clear from the beginning that Geoffrey Firmin, the Consul, is not going to survive it. His marriage – now ended – brought him and his wife to the depths of despair, and she has come back to find him drinking himself to death. It’s not a fun-filled or optimistic book, but strangely isn’t depressing. It is generally considered to be one of the great novels of the 20th century, but it is very hard to describe its pull. Malcolm Lowry’s own life was equally ruined by alcohol (and is mesmerizing to read about – can he possibly do something worse, destroy his chances again, behave even more badly to people trying to help him? Yes, yes, and yes) and the book is somewhat autobiographical.
Links up with: All Saints was yesterday. Diego Rivera murals feature in the book – he was the lover of Frida Kahlo at around the same time. The Halloween entry featured a barman. Javier Marias was at All Souls college in Oxford.
This one's for Dee, queen of the cemeteries.
The skeleton at the bar (drinking tequila rather than the Consul’s choice of mescal) was photographed by AlejandroLinaresGarcia and can be found on Wikimedia Commons.
The chocolate skulls came from David Gomez Chiu, also from Wikimedia Commons.