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Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington is a British born Surrealist painter and writer, now living in Mexico City who has been described, alongside artists such as Pablo Picasso & Joan Miro, as one of the leading lights of the Surrealist movement. The Hearing Trumpet is her most famous piece of writing.


"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.”

– Bjork

"The Hearing Trumpet is a genuinely strange work of fiction; it’s also charming, due in no small part to Marian’s unflappability and matter-of-fact narration.”

– The Paris Review



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The Hearing Trumpet

Discovery: A Repetitive Process


Leonora Carrington first appeared to me by way of a painting entitled, "Eluhim" or ‘gods’ in Hebrew, on a visit to the Tate Modern in London about a year ago. Her art is strange, not like Dali or Picasso, strange in a slightly fairytale yet disturbing way, a hard to pin it down way. The painting I saw there used muted colors, lots of taupe and gray possibly a way to express neutrality and a matter of fact-ness about the subject matter. Something haunted me about this strange piece of art. I vowed to learn more about her when I got back to the states. I arrived back home ten days later, but I had already moved on to other things, unpacking, finishing an Anne Enright book, with a very steamy opening chapter.

Six months later I found myself traveling to Evanston, IL with my boyfriend to visit his family. I had moved on to another book, one that I won’t name because I couldn’t finish reading it. Chicago, or “the city” as Evanstonians say, was just minutes away. One afternoon we made our way to the Chicago Art Institute where I ran into Carrington again. Her work entitled Juan Soriano De Lacandón also used a neutral color palette and unsettled me in much the same way as the piece I saw in England. This time my curiosity grew and again I vowed not to forget about her.

This time when I got back to Oregon I had not forgotten about Carrington. I Googled her. First, I looked at the images tab in the search. Lots of photos of her artwork showed up, but also a couple images of a very serious woman looking at the camera in a way that made you wonder what she had seen in her life to make her look this way. A very different reality from what many of her paintings depict, but also unsettling just like her artwork. Then I found a web page and read –“A British-born Mexican artist, a surrealist painter and a novelist.”  I read about how she was an outcast in the Catholic school she attended, but that she decided to go on and become an artist and later a writer. A writer. This, I had to check out.

Leonora Carrington’s book, The Hearing Trumpet, like her artwork, is strange in an oddly beautiful way: “Houses are really bodies. We connect ourselves with walls, roofs, and objects just as we hang onto our livers, skeletons, flesh and bloodstream.” Sentences like this make me want to read this book forever. I feel connected to the words as if I’m living inside of them and they are living inside of me.

The Hearing Trumpet is the story of a 92 year old woman, Marian Leatherby who receives a hearing trumpet as a present from her friend, Carmella, a woman who is her conspirator, a trusted council, and ultimately her rescuer.  It’s a story about the power of friendship and a story of their irreverence in the best way possible.  The friendship in this novel is one of the most heartwarming aspects of the book and one of the reasons that I wish I owned it.  It was inspired by Leonora Carrington’s close friendship with fellow painter Remedios Varo.  I wish I had known Carrington or at least had gotten to see her read, but she passed away in her 90’s in 2011.

One of the best things about the book was that it was about an age group that I don’t see a lot in the novels I read. They were all spunky elderly women who had been pushed out of their children’s homes because they needed a bit more looking after once they began to age. Of this age group she says, “People under seventy and over seven are very unreliable if they are not cats.” Phrases like this make the book come alive. The book starts to delve into a more fairytale realm in the latter half and then things get wild, in a good way. I went along for the ride and I’m glad I did.

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