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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington

The Hearing Trumpet was ohmygod 100% fucking amazing. I've been in this mode of reading about repressed and oppressed British ladies in surreal circumstances, and that describes this book, but only superficially. The main character, Marian Leatherby, is really old, living in a Mexico-type land, hanging with her outrageous and wonderful friend Carmella and essentially enjoying herself despite deafness and neglect. "Every week brings a certain amount of mild enjoyment; every night, in fine weather, the sky, the stars, and of course the moon in her season. On Mondays, in clement weather, I walk two blocks down the road and visit my friend Carmella." Marian's useless son ends this quiet life and puts her in a home at the urging of his terrible, also British, wife. How terrible to be in such a lush land and surrounded by prune-faced Brits! In the home, run by unsurprisingly avaricious and suspectly religious twits, Marian meets up with several other old ladies, all of whom are interesting, if not all benign. Conditions at the home degrade until Christian mysticism, murder and good, old-fashioned collective action shake things up, then down, down, down.

Besides just stewing in the wonderfulness of Carrington's sentences and delighting in her weird, but not one-dimensional characters, what I liked most about this book were its portrayal of old age as a high-stakes adventure where one's past is more than dead weight and friendship as not only a superficial past time, but a lifesaving relationship. I would trade all the snow in Lapland for a friend like Carmella...

Despite all I've said, subtlety reigns in this book. Marian is a mild and mostly passive observer and she tells this story with a sweetness that may distract from the author's absolute dissection of ideas of propriety, femininity, the body, human worth and the past. Her reality is not questioned by the book, though throughout the story several people deem her "senile" or vice-ridden or mad. If you read the intro to the book, or any other biographics on Carrington, it becomes clear why this theme is so important, but I urge you to wait until you've read the book and not let the facts fuck up the fictional truth.

I wish I could show you more of Carrington's writing, but the book has gone back to the library and Google-Booking around for quotes is agitating. Perhaps if everybody who reads this buys a copy from Exact Change we can pressure them into reprinting more of her work.

4 comments:

sarah said...

This sounds great. I just read "Emily, Alone," Stewart O'Nan's latest which is also about an elderly woman and it sounds like on the surface it deals with some of the same ideas but this one would be a great counter-balance to it...

Inspiration said...

Wow, what an interesting post! Great
!

ally said...

You might enjoy my film on Carrington, THE FLOWERING OF THE CRONE. An excerpt of her story, THE DEBUTANTE, from 1939, is on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrSXzEoxljs

Carrie said...

Ally, thanks for the tip.