Companions in Distress

“What shall I do?” I said. “It seems a pity to commit suicide when I have lived for ninety-two years and really haven’t understood anything.”
—Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet (17)

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Described as a Surrealist novel, the 1974 book, The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington is nothing if not dreamlike. Where the novel begins bears zero relation from where it ends and the matter-of-fact tone with which Carrington relates the hairpin turns and oddness is exactly like a dream in which things just are and you don’t necessarily question how you know—don’t ask questions! the facts are whatever they appear to be.

Then a terrible thing happened to me. I started to laugh and could not stop. Tears poured down my face and I covered my mouth with my hand, hoping they would think I had a secret sorrow and was weeping and not laughing (45).

The most wonderful thing about the book is the innocently curmudgeon of a protagonist, Marian Leatherby. She is very funny and her friend Carmella is the type of friend we all wish we had:

“I will give you a solution in a few moments,” said Carmella, who was rummaging in a large covered basket that she had brought. “In the meantime I had better give you the chocolate biscuits and the port, before anybody comes” (141).

A woman with priorities! And the one who gives the near-deaf Marian a hearing trumpet which causes her to learn that her odious family, whom she did not in anyway miss hearing, are plotting to send her to a “retirement” home which is where the real adventure begins.

The novel is closer, in my opinion, to a sort of a magical realism in that Carrington does not try ones patience with pseudo-psychological-surrealist imagery. Rather than a deep seeded anxiety, the book has a sort of joyful innocence. Marian is very trusting, and for a fellow-trusting fool like myself, it is nice to root for her.

I leapt right into the boiling soup and stiffened in a moment of intense agony with my companions in distress, one carrot and two onions (176).

*image from L’Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers



5 responses to “Companions in Distress

  1. Looks great. So many books, so little time!

  2. The last of the surrealists (unless you count the Chicago imagists or the west coast underground comix folks) and one of the best, as she kept it “real” i.e., personal, expressive without losing it to automatism or commercialism. I did not know of this book, did she illustrate it? It’s odd to see the older editions with work not by her on the covers here:

    • The edition of my book published by Exact Change (Boston) is illustrated by her son Pablo Weisz Carrington. I have to say one of the main reasons I read the book was because the design and physicality of it was so appealing (the third image of the books shown in the link you provide). That said, I have really become interested in Leonora Carrington as a person (as opposed to mere writer) and dashed off to the library to get her book Down Below in which she writes of her time in Spain in an insane asylum. Her life is fascinating.

  3. I read the book, some time ago. I particularly remember her experience of disassociation after the shock of hearing that her family wants to put her in a retirement home. She did have an interesting life: her flight during world war II, and the relationship with Max Ernst was traumatic to the degree she landed in a mental institution, if I remember correctly.

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