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The Hearing Trumpet (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 29 Sep 2005
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This book is so inspiring...I love its freedom, its humour and how it invents its own laws. What specifically do I take from her? Her wig (Björk)
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.See all Product description
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I've had this book in one of my bookcases for years and every time I've picked it up to read, I've found myself putting it back again to read later. Although I enjoy a little bit of fantasy now and then, I think maybe I'm a little too conventional in my reading habits for this particular novel, and although there were parts to the story that I found amusing and Marian certainly has her endearing personality traits, this was just a bit too odd for me to find it a really enjoyable read. I could make an attempt at analysing the themes in this novel, such as the quest for the Holy Grail, and I could mention the author's comments of using fiction as a way of creating one's own personal geography, but better minds than mine have done so in the various introductions to different editions of this book, so I won't try to add anything further. Although I have my reservations about this original and unusual novel, I'm certainly glad that I've finally got around to reading it and, as previously stated, parts of the story were entertaining to read, but I do have to be honest and say that it's most probably not a book I would keep on my bookshelves to read again.
This short novel begins as a quirky satire on old age, showing the frequent lack of sympathy between generations, even the revulsion that youth may feel for old age, and the extent to which the elderly no longer care about conventions and often are far more “with it” than they appear. The ninety-two-year-old narrator Marian Leatherby discovers with the aid of a friend’s gift of a hearing trumpet that her selfish and mean-spirited family plan to put her in a home for senile old ladies. Despite its deceptive appearance, designed, “to trick the old people’s families that we led a childish and peaceful life” and the bogus religious background, Marian is mesmerised by the portrait of the “nun with a leer” which hangs over the dinner table, and entertained by the eccentric little band of residents.
Marian recalls a former admirer from her youth in England: “I remember your white flannels better than I remember you”. As for food: “I never eat meat as I think it wrong to deprive animals of life when they are so difficult to chew anyway”. “People under seventy and over seven are very unreliable if they are not cats”. All this kept me entertained until the verbal surrealism went haywire, as Marian’s world spins into a kind of post-atomic nuclear winter. The author seems to be attacking organised religion and authoritarian fascist governments, whilst harbouring a fascination for romantic legends of the Holy Grail: “the Great Mother cannot return to this planet until the Cup is restored to her filled with the Pneuma, and under the guard of her consort the Horned God”. All this is reminiscent of her paintings with their common theme of angular figures in flowing dresses, with the heads of animals, standing stiffly in artificial landscapes or slightly out of kilter rooms.
Although I admire her originality, I cannot engage with the author’s surrealism. Her sketches for the book strike me as crude and childish, although her paintings are better:in a subjective choice, I like the paintings “Green tea” or “La Dame Ovale”, “The Crow Catcher", and her large sculptures.
I am more interested by Leonora Carrington as an unusual character than in her work. I was intrigued, for instance, by an interview on YouTube between her and a young relative who had tracked her down in Mexico, still lucid and chain-smoking in extreme old age. “You are trying to intellectualise my work too much” was her recurring response, suggesting we try to analyse her more than she intended.