Book Review: The Volcano Montserrat and Me by Lally Brown.

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 2484 KB
Print Length: 285 pages
Publisher: Lally Brown; 2 edition (23 Feb. 2015)



I must have been 7 or 8 when I saw Dante’s Peak. It was the inflight movie on the trip back to Britain from Florida. A journey undertaken mostly in the dark over the wide Atlantic. To my mind it was a rather scary movie, having had no realistic or to be honest scary depictions of volcanos ever put before me, but as I huddled down in my seat, peeking cautiously through the crack of the seat I had no idea that a real Dante’s Peak had been happening hundreds of miles away on the small Caribbean Island of Montserrat. The classic image of a volcano, a distinctive upturned triangle with an orange tip, pouring a gentle smokestack into the sky is the basic picture most of us have of volcanoes. I lost this image reading about the destruction of Pompeii, and it is an image everyone will forget about when they read this book and they find out the reality of what a volcano can do.
Preconceptions about what a volcanic eruption is, and what it truly means to live through one, will take a severe jolt, here. There is much less running around and screaming as there is silent terror, communal fortitude against the might of nature and dogged determination to maintain some kind of normality through not just days but years of constant uncertainty and threat.
Written with the immediacy and detail that comes only from the mind of an eyewitness, Lally Brown recounts her extraordinary years spent living through Hurricanes, earthquakes and almost unceasing volcanic eruptions with her family and friends on Montserrat after the volcano in the Soufrière Hills exploded back into life after its long torpid sleep of many centuries. By any estimation the year 1995 was an unlucky one to arrive in the island, but it puts the author in an excellent position to tell the story of the crisis from ground level and it is done excellently. This is no heroic tale of self glorification, no ego trip to say “I lived through this”, it is a very understated and humble account of a population under siege, very nearly cut off from effective help and increasingly at the mercy of a force of nature of immense power and at the same time of incredible mystery.
In my estimation this is a narrative that would sit at home with Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius, and I think Pliny would be proud. For with wit, sensitivity, sharp observations and a sometimes poignant play by play format Lally tells it as she saw it. About the people she knew, some of whom seem to have been characters a novelist would struggle to create, like “Kamikaze” Jim the Helicopter man, or Beryl the Fruit lady. Of politicians trying to keep order, of nations and officials dropping in to shake their heads sadly and then leave, of sympathetic royal visits, and scientists desperately trying to outthink the volcano. All the while the population reacts to the crisis. The things she saw constantly brought shades of Pompeii to my mind & it was fascinating to read how the volcano both added and took away from the culture of Montserrat.
In short this book is a must read for those interested in volcanoes, in natural disasters, amazing real life events, or just plain old good story telling.


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