Months have passed, and I still can't tell if Under the Volcano happened into my hands or if I went looking for it. My mood was dark and tired of being dark, I lazily searched for a read that might help me. Or that could at least improve my immobility, my stubborn addiction to the past. But all the pages found me out of place, I couldn't appreciate them. I remembered absent-mindedly reading about a novel dominated by self-destruction, after a few hours that book was in my hands.
To begin with, the language was hostile, catching me off guard. But partly because of the cover, partly because that Briton who spent his life in Mexico writing and drinking seemed sympathetic, I decided to continue. And I didn't find myself out of place.
The novel was steeped in alcohol. But not like the many writers who have chronicled their own relationship with this substance. It wasn't Baudelaire who saw it as a kind of blanket, it wasn't a muse. It wasn't reading about Apollinaire who dedicated his life's work to it. Nor Richler's Barney who considered him almost the only worthy friend. Nor Hemingway's alcohol, an extension of masculinity. There was no talk of a reason for living, as with Bukowsky.
Geoffrey Firmin found himself in alcoholism. Self-therapy, as so many do. That pain had no intention of ceasing and glass after glass had become more confusing, but no less intense. Drinking was not a part of the artist. The alcohol was there, and go explain to others, he must have told himself, that it's him who's looking for you. In the novel there was the alcoholism of those who live it every day, in their own misery. Lowry does not make a description, not a dedication, does not explain or find a way to give himself a bohemian charm, outdated and out of time. Lowry's is suffering that does not cry out, that does not want to be noticed or understood. It's there, and that can't be changed.
Alcohol is not a good thing or a bad thing, it tries to replace pain and fails. That's okay, too. The streets of the blurry Central American town lead only to bars, rotten counters of dumb patrons who can't quench their thirst. And soft bartenders who don't ask questions before pouring.
"-"Mescal," said the Consul, almost distractedly.-"
Going back is the stuff of novels.
Self-destruction. The guilt is blinding. And it doesn't matter what the guilt is atoning for. The few people who matter are back and they say they reach out. And the pain they have caused may be deserved, but why are they forgetting? Yvonne will wonder what Geoffrey is doing with the sweetness of his own hurt, not understanding that suffering is the only way to move forward. Suffering that tastes like Mescal.
"-"Oh, Geoffrey, we could be happy, we could..." "yes, we could be".-"
Those damn letters. Read after who knows how long, now that everyone had managed to move on, to put aside the pain of a great failure. Now that everyone else had forgiven themselves. And how irritating their bored desire to save a tossed rag. You try to be happy, at least you.
Firmin's life was perhaps a good one, prosperity, love, friends, travel, a good job. But here, in this novel, no one decides who can suffer and who can't, and no one complains.
Those torments, those misunderstandings, those unwanted quarrels consumed everything, and someone was maybe even right.
All that remains for Geoffry is self-destruction, the confused reading of letters of a love that was there, and it was a lot. A salty caress on every wound. And alcohol remains, so much, too much.
For me only a thank you, for those who wrote this abyss and in that abyss wrote themselves.
"-The consul reread the sentence several times, the same sentence, the same vain letter of all letters. "It's the silence that scares me. I imagined all sorts of tragic things befalling you, it was as if you had gone off to war and I was waiting, waiting, waiting for your news, your letter, your telegram... but no war could have this power to freeze and terrify the heart like this and all my thoughts, my prayers." (...) "Of course you must have thought a lot about the two of us, about how much we built together, about the lightness with which we demolished all that was beautiful, but without being able to destroy the memory of that beauty. That was what haunted me, I see you and me in a hundred different places, with a hundred smiles." (...) "You walk on the edge of an abyss where I may not follow you. I awake in a darkness where I must follow myself eternally, hating the self that endlessly so persecutes and confronts me. If we could rise in our misery, seek each other once more, and find again the consolation of each other's lips and eyes. Who will come between us? Who can oppose us?"
"The consul stood up, bowed to the old woman and passed into the bar. -