Ninety-Nine Novels: Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
In 1984, Anthony Burgess published Ninety-Nine Novels, a selection of his favourite novels in English since 1939. The list is typically idiosyncratic, and shows the breadth of Burgess’s interest in fiction. This podcast, by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, explores the novels on Burgess’s list with the help of writers, critics and other special guests.
In this episode, Graham Foster discovers Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, with poet, translator, editor and literary titan, Michael Schmidt.
Under the Volcano traces Geoffrey Firmin’s last day. It’s set on the Day of the Dead festival in 1938, during which Firmin is visited by his wife and his brother, who offer the possibility of salvation from his alcoholic decline. As the trio spend the day together, their uneasy alliance is threatened by Firmin’s drinking, his suspicions, and his desire to vanish into the Mexican countryside. As events unfold it quickly becomes apparent that Firmin has no interest in saving himself.
Malcolm Lowry was born on the Wirral in 1909. At eighteen, he left home to work at sea, which inspired his novel Ultramarine (1933). After gaining a degree from Cambridge and after the breakdown of his first marriage, he crossed the Atlantic and explored the United States, Mexico and Canada. He died in 1957.
Michael Schmidt is a poet, literary historian, translator and editor. His most recent book of poems, Talking to Stanley on the Telephone, appeared in 2021. His major critical undertakings include Lives of the Poets (1999), The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets (2005), The Novel: a Biography (2014) and Gilgamesh: the Life of a Poem (2019). Michael is founder, editor, and managing director of Carcanet Press and general editor of PN Review. He is currently a Professor of Poetry at the University of Manchester.
BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
By Malcolm Lowry:
- The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (c. 1321)
- Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan (1606)
- Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais (trans. by Thomas Urquhart, 1653)
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
- Three Lives by Gertrude Stein (1909)
- ‘The Dead’ in Dubliners by James Joyce (1914)
- Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
- Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
- The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence (1926)
- Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (1939)
- The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (1940)
- Family Sayings by Natalia Ginzburg (1963)
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In Series One and Two of Ninety-Nine Novels, we learnt about authors including James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Iris Murdoch, Ian Fleming and William Golding, among others. These episodes are available at your favourite place to get podcasts.
You can join the conversation and tell us which 100th book you would add to Burgess’s list by using the hashtag #99Novels on Twitter.
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The theme music for the Ninety-Nine Novels podcast is Anthony Burgess’s Concerto for Flute, Strings and Piano in D Minor, performed by No Dice Collective.