Let's be frank about this book: There's nothing likeable about its protagonist Geoffrey Firmin. He's a drunk, plain and simple, and not an amusing or good-natured drunk. When he's not beating himself up for being a hopeless alcoholic, he's busy feeling sorry for himself. There's nothing inspiring, uplifting, challenging or engrossing about the plot. And then of course there's the issue of the writing: Sentences running to half a page or more, encompassing multiple parentheses, wandering off aimlessly into topics of no particular relevance, to the point where one can no longer recollect what the sentence started out talking about. The structure and flow of the prose however varies greatly depending upon which character is front and center. Passages featuring Hugh flow smoothly, almost lyrically. Geoffrey's stream of (almost) consciousness however is disjointed, awkward, laborious to follow. Lowry clearly knew what he was doing but he certainly did not cut his reader any slack.
So, what exactly is it that makes this a "great novel"? Easy and entertaining? Not in the least. Enlightening about the human condition? Not really. Much of it consists of the addled mutterings of a man drifting in and out of delirium.
And yet, it was masterfully done. Having set out to carry the reader entirely into the murky half-reality of a self-destructive alcoholic, Lowry certainly succeeded. Atmospheric? You bet! One can smell the Bougainvillea. feel the burning noonday sun, hear the mournful dirge of funeral processions. The fatalism of of a disintegrating society at war with itself seeps into the narrative.
Bottom line: A brilliant piece of laborious writing; admirable but not enjoyable. I found myself growing impatient, waiting for Geoffrey to meet his end and be done with it!
A very difficult book to read. I had to stop after 100 pages because I wasn't giving it the time and attention it needs. I will come back to it soon enough, but if you wish to take up the challenge be forewarned this is one of those books you must take notes on, study, and re-read if you are really wanting to grasp all the dense and intricate information it holds.
This a book written on many levels. There are many many references to history, mythology, cabala, and literature. Some are only a single word! It is a dense book. I did not know that Faustus was written by Christopher Marlowe until I read Lowry.
A single day in the life of a alcoholic who has left the world for another plane of life, shortly before he physically leaves it. Makes Hemingway look like a social drinker.
A bit of a struggle for most readers not majoring in English. But, see the film (available on YouTube) by the same title first and get a feel for the subject. This book has been rated as one of the most important works of the 20th Century, along with James Joyce and the like. Note, too, Lowry's almost forgotten link to Vancouver where he spent considerable time drinking.
An incredible feat of writing. With the force of a dark undertow, it is the protagonists urge to self destruction that makes the novel so real and powerful. With masterful command of the written word Lowry creates a touching yet disturbing portrait.
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