THE PRIVATE LABYRINTH OF MALCOLM LOWRY by Perle S. Epstein

THE PRIVATE LABYRINTH OF MALCOLM LOWRY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano is an important and difficult work, perhaps one of the few postwar novels that does not seem dwarfed when put beside Joyce or Faulkner, and it deserves, no doubt, the scrupulous explication de texte given it here. The symbolic intentions of Lowry's novel are extreme, and Perle Epstein is right in noting that ""besides being a Bunyanesque novel of sin, redemption, politics, and contemporary despair, poetic metaphor and literary wit, Under the Volcano is consciously intended by its author to depict the ritual of mystic initiation."" It also, perhaps less consciously, depicts the novelist's own sense of visionary terror and transcendence since the dipsomaniacal Geoffrey Firmin, the ill-fated former British Consul stalking about the debris of his life in an apocalyptic Mexico in the late Thirties, is in every sense, except the purely biographical, a persona for Lowry himself. Epstein is well aware of the correspondence, but does not use it to any advantage, being almost completely concerned with the ""Cabalistic framework,"" ""the stylistic method of the Zohar,"" the innumerable allegorical allusions or devices, the Faustian, Dantean, and Biblical motifs that make up the atmosphere and didactic structure of the novel. This is all brilliantly examined by Epstein, and all future interpreters will be in this critic's debt. Nevertheless, there's something dry and diagrammatic in such a method, and much of the psychology and characterization of Lowry's tale appears oblique or devitalized, as does indeed ""the private labyrinth.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1969
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston