Ninety-two-year-old Marian Leatherby is given the gift of a hearing trumpet only to discover that family is saying 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..
The 1974 novel, The Hearing Trumpet, newly reissued, stands out as something at last truly radical, undoing not only our expectations of time and space, but of the psyche and its boundaries ... Carrington builds layers upon layers with an adeptly shifting point of view. Like captives in a body double that refuses to behave logically, we are allowed only to look over Marian’s shoulder as the world changes around her ... The result is a mind-flaying masterpiece, held together by Carrington’s gifts of wit, imagination and suspense. We ourselves arrive at the end feeling reconfigured, as if the book — like 'Mount Analogue,' by Carrington’s fellow Surrealist René Daumal — has only just begun where it cuts off. We are reminded, then, of the power of fiction not to reflect or to define, but to create a gateway to a place that wasn’t visible to us before the text, and yet has always existed just beyond our present reality’s dull edge.
In The Hearing Trumpet , Carrington leans into her starkest eccentricities, depicting the subversive power of womanhood with more imaginative zeal than almost any other 20th century novelist ... Much of Carrington’s humor follows this formula: a banal setup with an absurd punchline, or vice versa. But Marian and Carmella’s humor also emanates from their rejection of the rational world—and the rational world’s rejection of them. Unapologetically idiosyncratic, their peculiarities consistently clash with their surroundings, which is why their eccentrics are so intimately linked with age ... Carrington explores what Simone de Beauvoir called 'the fundamental source of women’s oppression,' i.e., the historical, social, and institutional othering of female bodies that precludes any genuine expression of individuality ... These events unfold in a bizarre haste, yet Carrington somehow shoehorns the madness into a slew of intriguing philosophical questions: Is reality malleable? From where do our moral foundations arise? How can we transcend repressive power structures, and what would our lives look like without them? To be sure, The Hearing Trumpet issues nothing in the way of answers. The novel eludes any whiff of definitiveness, instead layering ideas and questions atop one another like blocks in a Jenga tower. Naturally, Carrington forces the reader to withdraw the first block ... The Hearing Trumpet is a tremendously weird novel that revels in inconclusive ideas, surreal reimaginings, and the peculiarities of human consciousness. While the deluge of mythology and allusion can occasionally inhibit an otherwise pleasurable reading experience, The Hearing Trumpet’s singular, provocative perspective provides a vivid glimpse into Leonora Carrington’s invaluably frenetic mind.
... the comic novel...dizzies with the vastness of Carrington’s storytelling. Greek myths, Celtic legends, and classic fairy tales all sit in one another like never-ending nesting dolls ... Stories build within stories within stories; allusions layer over one another ... Carrington reappropriates stagnant or damning stories to build the chaotic, liberated world of her personal imagining. More importantly, she pinpoints a certain self-aware myth-building ... The Hearing Trumpet’s jubilance crackles in every corner of Carrington’s web. It races along relentlessly, and there is no question that this is a work of Carrington’s vibrant invention; the novel is so distinctly, wholly, and absurdly hers.