Ali Smith s introduction to this edition very effectively renders any comment from me superfluous, since Smith seems to be coming from a perspective by my side and is mucheloquent and insightful than I could hope to be As she points out, Carrington s vision of nuclear winter is entirely swap outable for the in progress fossil fuel induced climate catastrophe Her comments on feminist themes in the book, including attitudes towards older women, were similarly on point My urging fellow youngish whitefolks to value and respect the genius and often subjugated knowledge of elders will be less helpful than urging them to read this book Read it If at times I felt the splendidly unconventional narrative, a spectacular hybrid of fairytale quest, apocalyptic mysticism themed mystery kind of a la Umberto Eco , and satirical fable, made no sense, I also felt that this was intentional, although occasionally I had a feeling that some privately intelligible symbolism was at work in collaboration with my own expansive ignorance According to some participants in this discussion, all sorts of interesting things are going on structually and thematically that I only caught snatches of Nonetheless, I had a feeling of bracing refreshment, as if the rug I was sitting on with my book and blanket had suddenly decided to fly out of the window and give me a tour of an enchanted land.There are some issues The Negress Christabel Burns has an impressive role, revealing secret and spiritual knowledge This inevitably reminded me of the Hollywood magic Negro trope, since she seems to have no back story and unlike the other characters, no vulnerabilities, preferences or emotional ties I was distressed by the narrative s victimisation of a trans woman and her misgendering, although I noticed that the deadnaming applied to her was partially reversed, hinting at a trajectory towards trans acceptance I have to hope so anyway, since the 70s was a pretty dodgy decade for cis feminist attitudes to trans issues I found this an easy read despite the ornate language and elaborate, frenetic creativity especially on the part of Marian s friend Carmella It s really delightful to read something that so joyously and hilariously challenges attitudes to mental health Carrington here makes unmistakable what is so often misunderstood in surrealism the stimulus to see, hear, feel,clearly anddeeply, to see beyond the myths and other illusions of conventional socialisation and the deadening of the senses enforced by a narrowed and narrowing culture, by recognising the absurdity, the surreality of what goes on in our lives every day.Oh and I love that Marian doesn t eat meat and is persecuted for it institutionally and is friendly with animals Cat lovers will appreciate this one I don t know where to begin describing this I feel that knowing anything going in might spoil the craziness of this book It is well written, imaginative, and about old ladies. 3.5 stars The Hearing Trumpet is an exuberantly surreal adventure, one which includes such bizarre and spoiler yconsider yourself warned elements as a 92 year old woman sentenced to a most unusual retirement home, a mysterious portrait of a winking Abbess, a problematic planisphere, an untimely death by way of a questionable carrot, a lilac limousine and matching wig , auto cannibalism, a new ice age, plenty of cats, werewolves and bees, and even the Holy Grail This decidedly peculiar list of ingredients was utilized to great effect with it, Carrington conjured up a truly amusing, enchanting concoction On the whole, the story was entertaining, humorous, and charmingly weird I absolutely loved the odd little illustrations scattered throughout the book, which were faintly reminiscent of the wonderfully curious drawings of my main man Edward Gorey Overall, though I enjoyed this high spirited, quirky, joyfully inventive romp, it was often a little too whimsical for my liking Also, in my opinion, while the beginning and ending were fun and engaging, the middle portion was relatively slow and, at times, even somewhat dull That said, I didn t dislike the book by any means, and would definitely recommend it for fans of fantastic literature and magical realism I just personally prefer the dark, unsettling strangeness found in many of Carrington s paintings Brava In a 1977 interview that appears as a foonote on the first page of the introduction of this edition, Carrington notes that in this book she wanted to appear as an old lady so that I could poke fun at sinister things And this she does, and does it so well that I couldn t help falling in love with Marian as well as with the book itself Marian Leatherby is ninety two and lives with her son Galahad, his wife Muriel, and one of their five children who still lives at home Her best friend is Carmella, who writes letters all over the world to people she has never met and signs them with all sorts of romantic names, never her own On one of Marian s regular visits to Carmella, her friend gives her a hearing trumpet, which she says will change Marian s life Not only will you be able to sit and listen to beautiful music and intelligent conversation but you will also have the privilege of being able to spy on what your whole family are saying about you, and that ought to be very amusing What Marian hears is her family s plan to put her in an institution in Santa Brigada, which is run by the Well of Light Brotherhood and financed by a prominent American cereal company Once there, it doesn t take Marian too long to figure out that the place is a front for a cult, and among other things, she begins to have weird dreams and becomes obsessed with a strange portrait of a winking nun And while all of this seems patently absurd, there s a certain logic to it all, none the least of which is that in leaving the mundane world, Marian has crossed over into another It is a great story, laugh out loud funny at times while deadly serious it is cloaked in mythology and alchemical lore, and offers the story of a woman whose life begins to take on purpose at a ripe old age as she becomes initiated into a special world of secrets It s so much , but it is difficult to describe the indescribable, so we ll leave it there This is my favorite of Carrington s fiction so far, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. A novel way of spring cleaningIt was this interview in the Guardian that brought me here Olga Tokarczuk mentions that one influence on Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead was the hilarious, sassy 92 year old narrator of this novel, Marian Leatherby For the first 72 pages I was with her, absolutely, laughing like a drain and thinking that my wholehearted recommendation here would say things like Do not read in a public place or when drinking tea , you know, a high snort count But then, mysteriously, Marian left the stage to a true and faithful rendering of the life of Do a Rosalinda della Cueva, Abbess of the Convent of Santa Barbara of Tartarus, translated from the original Latin text by Friar Jeremias Nacob of The Order of The Holy Coffin And no doubt as a function of how highly entertaining Marian is, the true and faithful rendering, by contrast, was so excruciatingly tedious that my eyeballs dried up and my nose began to bleed and I found, suddenly, that there were all sorts of things I would much rather be doing than reading this, like scrubbing toilets or scouring kitchen worktops or laboriously cleaning away the green algae layer on the terrace Marian pops back in occasionally, but not enough, not enough to redeem the other 82 pages Time taken to read first half two hours Time taken to read second half six days I see it, yes, that there are themes in there, hallucinatory drugs, nuclear winter apocalypse, infantilisation of older people, the anarchy of independent thought It is impossible to understand how millions and millions of people all obey a sickly collection of gentlemen that call themselves Government The word, I expect, frightens people It is a form of planetary hypnosis, and very unhealthy It has been going on for years, I said And it only occurred to relatively few to disobey and make what they call revolutions If they won their revolutions, which they occasionally did, they madegovernments, sometimescruel and stupid than the last Men are very difficult to understand, said Carmella Let s hope they all freeze to death I am sure it would be very pleasant and healthy for human beings to have no authority whatever They would have to think for themselves, instead of always being told what to do and think by advertisements, cinemas, policemen and parliaments I m all for people thinking for themselves. A book I ve been circling for years, even before I joined Goodreads depending what I heard about it, sometimes it sounded enticing and light a charming, funny, Alice like fantasy with intellectual depth sometimes depressing about an old lady in an oppressive nursing home I was finally induced to read it by this recent interview with Olga Tokarczuk, in which she says it influenced her newly translated Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead Some editions of The Hearing Trumpet, including the Virago Modern Classic, include a 1991 introduction by Helen Byatt This contains material about crones and witches in surrealism and feminism, madness, boarding schools, occultism including Gurdjieff, the Grail and Robert Graves The White Goddess a book I m glad I read when I was younger, before I knew people rarely bother with it these days, as it s referenced in a surprising number of things and vaguely Margaret Murrayish ideas of wild pre Christian matriarchal religion, equating maleness with Christianity and authoritarian sky gods generally This did not make me look forward to The Hearing Trumpet itself it made me glad the book was short but it was interesting to have my attention drawn to the ideas about modernity and religion while in the middle of Sarah Moss Ghost Wall, which includes the idea that modernity is better for women, and soon after reading a friend s review of yet another book which pointed out the contradictions between feminisms By the end of the book, I thought there were topics the introduction had unjustly neglected, butof that later If I have read the newer introduction in the Penguin edition, by Ali Smith, it would have been years ago in a bookshop and I can t remember anything about it I d like to read it again now.In the novel, I was surprised how good, and how instantly likeable, the narrative voice is Marian, 92, absolutely sounds like an old lady And like the author, she is an English expat in Mexico In the early part of the novel, it reads like a really good children s book, with delightful lines like people under seventy and over seven are very unreliable if they are not cats on nearly every page Her existence seems idyllic, and so one inevitably feels it is unjust that her callous, image obsessed son and daughter in law decide to put her in a home Even if one is an age at which peers consider homes for aged parents Although the home turns out to be architecturally adorable and worthy of a surrealist art exhibition and to have intriguing fellow residents, the management are a new age cult who continually invalidate and refuse to listen to the people in their care Carrington portrays them with sufficient lightness of touch that they are ridiculous caricatures at least as much as monsters Rather than making a big deal out of the reality or otherwise of what Marian says as many contemporary authors would, creating an unreliable narrator who may have dementia, or in children s fiction, in which a child hero needs to persuade at least one adult that something is real she is a reliable narrator of her own reality, a reality which makes up pretty much all the book and which reads as a slipstream fantastical narrative She is always clear other than one passage near the beginning, in a stream of consciousness mode like disjointed thoughts from the edge of sleep Even if a reader were to bring a cold and clinical attitude that most of what happens is in Marian s imagination, it would surely make one think about the amazing worlds that a person may contain The humour tapers off in the second half or perhaps becomes darker andsubtle as the narrative approaches the story within a story, an account of a covertly occult 18th century Spanish saint and abbess It reads, minor historical inaccuracies and all, like an early 20th century horror tale I think it was at the end of the story of Abbess Rosalinda, when Marian remarks I had become affectionately attached to the intrepid and energetic Abbess The fact that the snooping priest had done his best to portray her in a pernicious light, hardly distorted the purity of her original image She must have been a most remarkable woman that I first thought what a twentieth century book Perhaps it s because of a comment I read somewhere online recently that only from a century s 20s does the character of a century start to emerge there are counter arguments, but in English history, the late 30s of the 16th and 19th centuries fit and sufficient distance is established to characterise the earlier century as a whole Approbation of the Abbess disregards her own crimes and her disregard of those committed by others I ve seen it said elsewhere, with disgust, that sexual abuse, especially of boys, by male clergy was such an open secret that it had become a running joke in 20th century British literature, and one that should no longer be funny Perhaps that s an especially 2010s sentiment it s far too early to tell But in the context of fantasy literature, it feels like this is another way in which this isn t just a very 1960s 1970s book, but encompasses ideas that ran throughdecades either side the lineage from the Golden Dawn through Gardnerian Wicca to the New Age from Kellogg s sanatorium to dodgy hippie cults elderly people talk of the First World War and have peculiar deference to aristocracy in a world of plastic wallpaper and electric fires with glowing fake logs, and on one level it s about social liberalisation and increased human rights, and the throwing off of a stuffy old order, the big Western narrative of the whole second half It still seems remarkable that Carrington apparently wrote this in the early 60s if only she d published it then, she d have been so ahead of her time, and I suspect the book would have been better known It s full of stuff which feels like end 60s burnout indictment of cults and their leaders, jumping off tall buildings and dying under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs apocalyptic tabloid scare of the time, a new ice age, also fictionalised with flair by Anna Kavan, as well as the playful, psychedelic exuberance of a couple of years earlier, and the principles of Szasz and Laing There s quite a lot of upper middle class Englishness here though Leonora, is rather remarkably, nothing at all to do with Dora Carrington of the Bloomsburies but I d love to hear , well, anything, about The Hearing Trumpet in the context of Latin American art lit Byatt describes Carmella s repeated mentions of firearms as masculine, but I thought themlikely to relate to the prevalence of revolutions, coups and armed rebels in the region I haven t read enough Latin American myself to say exactly what s relevant, but it does feel like there s something connectable in The Hearing Trumpet to the magic realism and tricksiness of the Boom The line drawn illustrations in this edition, by the author s son, are in a style quite different from the cover painting hers and are not my sort of thing, but may appeal to fans of David Shrigley and Allie Brosh I ve rated it 4 stars rather than 5, unlike many GR friends, because I didn t find the joy in it that makes a 5 star read due to the setting but it is absolutely a wonderful little book that deserves to bewidely read. 92 year old Marian Leatherby is quite content living with her son and his family she holds no illusions that she is a welcome presence in the home, so she stays out of everyone s way in the hope that they will stay out of hers, a strategy that has always paid off so far Her hearing is none too good, so she is given a gift of a hearing trumpet by her eccentric, beatific best friend Carmella With her newly enhanced hearing she is able to overhear that her family plans to ship her off to a home for old women.The old ladies home is a bizarre affair, run in Draconian fashion by a married couple who belong to a cultish but ostensibly Christian religious sect The buildings are in odd shapes, such as a big boot, an igloo, a castle tower, an Egyptian sarcophagussee, I told you it was bizarre There are all sorts of strange goings on occult rituals, a poisoning plot, a murder, a search for the Holy Grail, a devastating cataclysm, some Kabbalistic stuff, Taliessin fits in there somewhere and there s a female Anubis who is named Anubeth And muchBottom line, this book is absolutely batshit bonkers, and also absolutely delightful, full of humor and absurd lunacy, zipping along on its own internal logic Note Coincidentally, I read this immediately after Barbara Comyn s Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, another delightful novel featuring an elderly woman with an old fashioned hearing trumpet Is there an esoteric genre called hearing trumpet fiction If so, I m open for further recommendations, because so far I m on a roll. Leonora Carrington, The Distinguished British Born Surrealist Painter Is Also A Writer Of Extraordinary Imagination And Charm Exact Change Launched A Program Of Reprinting Her Fiction With What Is Perhaps Her Best Loved Book The Hearing Trumpet Is The Story OfYear Old Marian Leatherby, Who Is Given The Gift Of A Hearing Trumpet Only To Discover That What Her Family Is Saying Is That She Is To Be Committed To An Institution But This Is An Institution Where The Buildings Are Shaped Like Birthday Cakes And Igloos, Where The Winking Abbess And The Queen Bee Reign, And Where The Gateway To The Underworld Is Open It Is Also The Scene Of A Mysterious MurderOccult Twin To Alice In Wonderland, The Hearing Trumpet Is A Classic Of Fantastic Literature That Has Been Translated And Celebrated Throughout The World A wonderful beginning quickly plateaued to a cruising altitude of banal and uninspired until the final couple of chapters, when Carrington seemed to shake out of her dithering reverie and started throwing her weight about but the turgidity of phantasmagorias was simply not enough to save this book from the doldrums.Mirian Leatherby is 92 and a character the first chapter had me in stitches between her gallant beard, the crazy concoctions she plots with her friend Carmella who steals the French yellow pages and writes letters to random recipients within, as well as plans to defect to Lapland, and evenhilarious, her unwelcome intrusions in her sons parlour where she recites fourteen stories about multicoloured parrots but forgets the ending of a mere six of them, I was constantly in mirth.Too quickly though Marian gets dispatched to a nursing home and things here become beyond tedious A coterie of utterly uncharming residents, whose non idiosyncratic ways are described a tad too loquaciously, charge onto the scene and my eyes glaze over Not even a rather overlong and mysteriously uninspired soliloquy into the life of an 18c nun can bestir me from apathy In fact, I m cringing its obvious Carrington is giving it all she s got, trying to be witty, innovative and engaging, but its coming out a dud A minor murder mystery adds some salt to this bland soupcon, but I m unmoved.The end part switches gear and now its a magic mystery tour I.e there is a lady with a wolf head who give birth to werelets Yay This was mildly enjoyable, even if it came like a curve ball out of nowhere One minute we re on solid ground, next minute, cuckoo land Mirian had probably had a puff of the weed Carmella smuggled in Fine, fine, I m good with that But, still Not so much a little too little too late, but rather a little too much not a little too early.