Leonora Carrington’s Transformative Surrealist Novel
THE HEARING TRUMPET
By Leonora Carrington
I’ve by no means had a go-to reply for when somebody asks, “What’s an ideal Surrealist novel?” I’ve all the time discovered this practically century-old subgenre of literature reasonably tame, much less a transcendence of the identified world than half-baked psychoanalytic play and veiled romance. Actual life is endlessly lurking across the nook, so it appears, lording its narrativizing methods over what may be glimpsed of the Past.
Enter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), a British-born Mexican painter and writer who fantastically surpasses her Freud-struck, phallocentric contemporaries. Her 1974 novel, “The Listening to Trumpet,” newly reissued, stands out as one thing ultimately really radical, undoing not solely our expectations of time and house, however of the psyche and its boundaries.
“For the final 45 years I’ve been making an attempt to get away,” our 92-year-old narrator, Marian Leatherby, tells us early on. She is aware of she’s a legal responsibility to her son, Galahad, and his household, who reside just for themselves. Practically deaf, she is presented a listening to trumpet by her buddy Carmella — simply in time to overhear her household focus on transport her off to an elder-care establishment “financed by a distinguished American cereal firm (Bouncing Breakfast Cereals Co.)” and portentously generally known as the Properly of Gentle Brotherhood.
Even after the transfer, nevertheless, our kindly Marian stays buoyant, wide-eyed, prepared for all times. She frequently adapts to her circumstances, as Carrington builds layers upon layers with an adeptly shifting viewpoint. Like captives in a physique double that refuses to behave logically, we’re allowed solely to look over Marian’s shoulder because the world adjustments round her. At first, she finds herself swept up into the psychodrama of a confined tribe of equally wild-minded feminine residents, who’re overseen by the cultish and perverted Dr. Gambit. The physician’s quasi-Christian rule of legislation belies a madcap conspiracy, involving thoughts management and poisoned fudge, that finally ends up dissolving just about the whole lot we thought we knew about the place the novel was going. It’s “The Crying of Lot 49” on Ambien, or maybe “The Magic Mountain” whittled right down to a viral nightmare, or a shiv.
The guide’s pivot level is Marian’s discovery of an uncanny portrait of a “leering abbess” who seems to look at over her throughout meals. Her obsession with the portray results in a 37-page digression that relates the life and instances of Rosalinda Alvarez della Cueva, abbess of the Convent of St. Barbara of Tartarus, to whom the Brotherhood is deeply tied. Carrington’s skillful rendition of this embedded story (which itself features a weird retelling of the destiny of Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail) unlocks from the novel the various fractal worlds hidden inside. Quickly we’re in landscapes populated with orgies, riddles, doppelgängers and stairways to hell, with little time to hint who we had been or the place we’ve been.
Thereafter, nothing is similar. In following the thriller of the Brotherhood’s origin, Marian finds her thoughts and reminiscence, and your complete historical past of the world, wholly reworked. The questions that plague our routine day by day lives are damaged ultimately, changed with an event to see newly, and due to this fact, to rise to heights past the ceilings of domesticity.
The result’s a mind-flaying masterpiece, held collectively by Carrington’s items of wit, creativeness and suspense. We ourselves arrive on the finish feeling reconfigured, as if the guide — like “Mount Analogue,” by Carrington’s fellow Surrealist René Daumal — has solely simply begun the place it cuts off. We’re reminded, then, of the facility of fiction to not mirror or to outline, however to create a gateway to a spot that wasn’t seen to us earlier than the textual content, and but has all the time existed simply past our current actuality’s uninteresting edge.
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