The Hearing Trumpet

Review From User :

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 much more eloquent 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, more clearly and more deeply, 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 = )


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 of 92-year-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 murder.

Occult twin to Alice in Wonderland, The Hearing Trumpet is a classic of fantastic literature that has been translated and celebrated throughout the world.

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