One of the things that I love, on the near never ending list of things I love, about book blogging is that sometimes someone who has been reading your blog a while will recommend you a title that you have never heard of before but instantly sounds up your street. This was the case with ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ by Leonora Carrington, a book both with a title and an author that I had never heard of before and yet instantly appealed to me when I learnt more about it.
Marian Leatherby is given a hearing trumpet from her best friend (and the absolutely wonderful) Carmella. At 92 years of age Marian is living with her son and his family who really don’t want her there and on the first evening she hides away to listen to them all she hears that she is soon to be sent off to a home. Marian is aware that she might not be everyone’s ideal house guest but this is her family and it’s a rejection and an upheaval all in one. Though this book does deal with the pitfalls of old age it is by no means a morose tale, in fact its both giggle inducing and laugh out loud funny on several occasions.
‘Here I may add that I consider I am still a useful member of society and I believe still capable of being pleasant and amusing when the occasion seems fit. The fact that I have no teeth and never could wear dentures does not in anyway discomfort me. I don’t have to bite anybody and there are all sorts of edible foods easy to procure and digestible to the stomach. Mashed vegetables, chocolate and bread dipped in warm water make the base of my simple diet. I never eat meat as I think it is wrong to deprive animals of their life when they are so difficult to chew anyway.’
She is soon made to pack her bags and is carted off to one of the strangest institutions that there could be. A place where the houses that these old ladies live in are made in the shape of giant shoes, igloo’s, birthday cakes and mushrooms and where their inhabitants are almost as barmy. Marian becomes rather subconsciously obsessed with a painting of a winking Nun, Dona Rosalinda Alvarez Cruz della Cueva, who she soon learns was the founder of the institution with quite a bizarre and sordid past. Throw in a murder and a surreal almost apocalypse and you have one of the most bizarre yet brilliantly funny and original tale.
Discovering that Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter made a huge amount of sense when I read Ali Smith’s (who I like a lot) introduction to the novel. Carrington paints a setting which is completely cuckoo and yet also vivid and so you can easily picture these ladies heading to their toad-stools and the like after dinner in the grand hall. I will admit towards the end I did get a little bit lost and it took me a little while to realise I was reading a story within a story at another point, yet you do go with it no matter how doolally it gets.
As well as just how surreal it can be Carrington’s characters and humour make this a real pleasure to read in parts. Most of the ladies at the institute be they evil, delightful or a bit racy were really enjoyable to read and spend time with. For me personally Carmella stole every scene she was in and had me in hysterics often for example as she thinks of ways of which to rescue Marian from dressing up as a nun to buying a helicopter, though she would have to win the lottery or marry a millionaire first, and rescuing her from above – in fact everything Carmella thinks and does has to go to the most unexpected of extremes. Marian of course as the narrator was also a joy and her darker wit really appealed to me.
‘I saw myself sitting in a warm parlour with scarlet curtains surrounded by happy, confidential but vague faces. I drank glass after glass of rich Portuguese wine occasionally washed down with a tiny French éclair. Everybody got happier and happier, they burst into applause as I reached the lighthouse, Anna Wertz had disappeared. She must have noticed that I had not been paying attention to what she was telling me. Poor Anna, how terrible for her that nobody ever liked listening to her talk.’
It’s not a perfect book and you might get lost here and there but if you want a highly original book that will have you laughing a lot and you can spend an afternoon with, as its only 144 pages, then I would highly recommend this be a read for you. I really enjoyed my time with it, and was very grateful for the recommendation which I am now passing on to all of you. A crazy old tale filled with crazy old ladies… lovely stuff! 7.5/10
Have any of you spent time with Marian Leatherby? I would love to know what others have made of this book. Do any of you know if there is a book about Leonora Carrington as reading the introduction and hearing about her escapades if there isn’t a book about her then there should be! Has anyone read anything else by Leonora Carrington? What’s the most surreal book you have picked up lately?