Leonora Carrington’s sole full-length novel The Hearing Trumpet (1976) is her only work of fiction currently still in print, and justifiably so. Though making use of the Surrealist sense of the fantastic, the hermetic tropes and the bizarre wit that characterises her writing and painting, the book also addresses, in a very humane and level-headed way, ageing, community and the destruction human beings blindly wreak upon each other and the planet.
The narrator is the charismatic and witty Marian Leatherby, a 92 year old woman who needs the eponymous hearing trumpet to hear anything, including her estranged family’s plans to shut her up in a sinister Neo-Christian old people’s home which looks like a child’s theme park and operates like a prison camp. Marian has to get used to living in a room filled with trompe l’oeil painted furniture and endure the persecution of two religious quacks that channel the Holy Spirit and poison chocolate fudge. Whilst there, Marian and the other forgotten, discarded old people (each one as individual, vital and interesting as the last) discover the history of the mysterious Winking Abbess, whose insidious picture dominates the dining room…
The delightful eccentricity of this book does not mask the more serious points Carrington considers. She questions existing forms of societal control (especially religion) and criticises humanity’s refusal to address the disrespectful way it treats the natural world. Her rich and unusual imagery also investigates female identity, especially the so-called ‘inconsequential’ female, the old woman, and develops a new understanding of the ‘insubordinate’ woman, though she never preaches and always maintains her irreverent sense of humour.
This book proves that Carrington should be considered a part of the serious literary canon, and proves that the serious literary canon can be fun, daring and heart-warming.