The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Leonora Carrington is a deeply strange writer. Given that a biography of the author features how
“Subjected to horrifying treatment in a Madrid asylum, she was rescued by her nanny who arrived in a submarine.”
this is probably unsurprising.
Carrington’s a lesser-known but vitally important Surrealist, and her books are possessed of the same febrile inspiration the group is known for. The Hearing Trumpet tells the story of Marian Leatherby, an observant and spry 92-year-old who is shut away in a pisstake of a Fourth Way institution. The titular hearing trumpet marks her awakening to conspiracy, and the book doesn’t let up – from her family’s machinations we move to global change and the Grail, with some transvestitism and murder along the way.
Oh, and doppelgangers.
It’s rich fantasy, and the spidery illustrations in this edition fit the words perfectly: they’re reminiscent of Searle’s St Trinians girls at the end of life, and possess the same flick-knife wickedness.
It appears the book was written at a gallop: Ali Smith’s introduction speaks of Carrington writing the book at a clip in a cacophonous cafe. This would explain the almost complete lack of breaks in the text: it can be fatiguing to read as there is often no sense of a resting place, as there is in chaptered books. While this can be immersive – not a surprise in a book about remaking the world to one’s image – it can also be annoying if you’re reading this on a commute.
I’m glad I read The Hearing Trumpet, because it is delightfully wicked. It’s very uneven, and often seems more a collection of thoughts on a page than a narrative with a lot of structute, but it is always striking. I wish I knew why it took me so long to get through the book. Life gets in the way, sure, but this was a text almost custom-built for my interests – and yet, it took much longer to read than its length suggested.
Weird. Anyway, if you’re into 92-year-olds who, while deaf, aren’t ready to give up the ghost (familial or global) then you should grab it.