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on 2 May 1998
The Hearing Trumpet is deliciously funny and irreverent; Surrealist painter/author Leonora Carrington's apocalyptic tale is filled with gems such as "Darling, don't be philosophical, it doesn't suit you, it makes your nose red." Filtered through the eyes and ears of Marian Leatherby, a 92 year-old inmate of a Spanish old folk's home (run by the cultlike Well of Light Brotherhood), the tongue-in-cheek tone and hilarious chracters make this book a refreshing surprise. Every copy I've ever owned has been stolen! From the first paragraph, the reader will see that Marian Leatherby and her friends are NOT LOL's (Little Old Ladies), and Leonora Carrington is not your average author. (She's truly hilarious, for one!) Read this book for its wacky imagery (a trompe l'oeil "furnished" tower, a pair of murdering religious quacks, termite engineering, wigs, marijuana-stuffed needlepoint pillows, and a 92 year-old lady swarming down ten stories of rope, for starters), then hide your copy from your well-read friends...or buy them their own!
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on 31 October 1997
Leonora Carrington's dream like tale of Marian, a plucky ninety-five year old, straddles the boundary between mad fantasy and insightful social commentary. Far from being a dry philosophical tome, it is a quick and thoroughly pleasurable read, yet it addresses issues of female identity with imagery that has become part of a sort of neofeminist canon. The image of the wolf sister and particularly the discovery of the Queen Bee will resonate with anyone who is interested in women's spirituality or related studies. The best thing about this book, however, is that it is so fantastically engaging that people of many ages and backgrounds will enjoy it thoroughly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 November 2008
Wonderful. A fantastical, surreal fable that begins when a 92 year old lady is given a hearing trumpet by a friend and then overhears her family planning to dump her in an old people's home. Off she goes to a home where a collection of old women live variously in shoes, mushrooms and towers, and they are at the will of Dr Gambit, a man who preaches that they must discover inner Christianity during their stay. This, and what follows, is a hilarious, surreal, illuminating and quietly philosophical tale, the most obvious (and possibly least important) themes of which are age and perception. It's heart-warming, eccentric, and makes you glad to be alive. It turns into a stranger tale than I was expecting it to, but I would wholeheartedly recommend this: a unique and piercing little piece of fiction.
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on 27 September 2010
Marian Leatherby is given a hearing trumpet from her best friend (and the absolutely wonderful) Carmella. At ninety-two 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 for elderly women. 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.

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.

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.
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With this short novel Leonora Carington has truly produced something that is pure genius, and the tale itself is timeless. When ninety two year old Marian is sent to a cheap old people's home by her family she finds herself entering a different world. From the weird housing to the residents and owners (with their religious views) this is certainly a world apart. Marian's friend, Carmella, is fixed in her opinion that the home is some kind of concentration camp and wants to help Marian escape.

With its take on religion, and how old people can be packed off by their children, along with fantasy and some sci-fi, with the world altering its axis, and the Knight Templars, this really pokes fun at the Catholic Church as well as other religions, and makes us think about that as well as how we treat the planet. On top of that, with murder in mind, a hunger strike, and the Old Religion myths, as well as 'buried treasure' there is so much to take in here. At times laugh out loud funny this book is more than just plain surrealism, it is full of satire, humour that is both dark and light, a fairytale, and in some ways a parable. There are also some illustrations by the author, a good introduction by Ali Smith as well, but be warned, one section is in small print that some may find difficult to read. All in all though, this is well worth reading.
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on 7 October 2012
My only complaint about this book is that it was too short! A delightful story of pure fantasy, actually Alice in Wonderland kept coming to mind whilst I was reading it. The characters all come to life, I could actually see myself in a couple of them, which was rather amusing.
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on 20 February 2006
Marian Leatherby, a 92 year old, not quite antiquated woman. Is given a gift of a hearing trumpet, only to uncover her scheming family have every intention of committing her to an institution for elderly ladies. It takes a considerable amount of coercion but Marian packs her bags and leaves her beloved cats with a close friend. Nevertheless the institution is no coventional one, by any means. The buildings are shaped like lighthouses and birthday cakes, the portrait of a winking abbess has a strange and secretive connection to the institution and the women who live there, and who is the woman in the tower? Read this book and be taken on copious amusing, mystical and extremely surreal adventures. Encounter the king of the wolves, the queen bee and many more fantastical creatures. It really is a truely wonderful book, I urge you to read this.
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on 30 January 2016
It's hard to describe this book. A more than slightly batty, very deaf, wonderfully mischievous old lady finds she is powerless to fight being sent off to a home. So far, so good. At this point the book slyly edges increasingly towards the surreal and the one thing you can predict is that you won't know where this is all heading. Suffice to say it's pretty startling. If you have a surreal sensibility this book is a must. Leonora Carrington is best known for her early relationship with Max Ernst and for her mysteriously symbolic and witty paintings but I'm so glad I came across this.
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on 9 January 2013
I have been a fan of Leonora Carrington's cabalistic artwork for some time. At last I have managed to read what is considered her finest literary endeavour and I have so much admiration for this beautiful, bonkers book. The 92 year old narrator, Marian Leatherby, is an ingenious creation and the conversations she shares with her best friend Carmella are hilarious, brimming with drama, paranoia and affection. Marian is abandoned by her family in an unorthodox retirement home where the most hypocritical are religious zealots and each inhabitant lives in an unusually shaped villa (a boot, an igloo, a toadstool, etc). There is a book within the book, the story of a leering, levitating abbess who was the original occupier of the home, back in the days when it was full of orgiastic nuns.

The novel is full of the things that interested Carrington- arcane mythologies of the world and their accompanying symbolism, animalistic humans and humanistic animals, cataclysmic world events told with a surrealism that is somehow understated. But the most powerful thing for me is the fact that to many people a 92-year old woman is fit for nothing and deserves her incarceration. Carrington makes the woman her hero- a forgetful heroine, yes, one who is a little slower to understand, but a heroine none the less.
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on 4 January 1997
Perhaps known to more as an artist, Leonora Carrington also
happens to be a superb writer. Few adult novels would dare
to accomodate their main character in a house with real looking
furniture that is merely paint on the walls. The heroine
is an old lady with a dignified beard and a mystical trumpet
that ameliorates her ability to hear. One can only imagine
the trouble this trumpet causes and the fiascos that result
with a cast of equally wacky old ladies. The nursing home
setting provides the backdrop for a fantastical and
ambitious story written in beautiful prose.
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