I'm not the biggest fan of Penguin's policy of frequently reissuing chunks of their catalogue in new jackets or formats. There are entire blogs that seem to exist largely to croon lovingly over every new reissue, and I will admit that Penguin's redesigns tend to be aesthetically pleasing more often than not (there are exceptions - I still don't like the new look Modern Classics with their blurry snapshots and oversized sans-serif titles), but it's frustrating to have, for example, an un-uniform set of Nabokovs or Penguin's excellent set of Joshi-edited Lovecraft collections just because the titles in question were issued in both Black Classics and Modern Classics editions, subjected to the new Modern Classics redesign or simply put out in a special edition with new covers, and all in the space of about a decade, so that all the different editions may still be bought first-hand. Its things like this that have converted me to one of those quasi-Philistines who no longer judge a book by its cover (once thought of as a mark of wisdom, I believe).
On the other hand I can't really complain if it is that luxury edition of Pride And Prejudice or Lolita's eleventy-hundredth new cover which help to push sales and make it possible to include lesser-known treasures in the catalogue. Books like JL Carr's luminous 'A Month In The Country', or G. Nagarajan's bleak and brilliant 'Tomorrow Is One More day'. Or the book at hand, Leonora Carrington's 'The Hearing Trumpet'.
Leonora Carrington's own life is something of a marvel - an English heiress who ran away to join the Surrealists, was rescued from a Spanish sanitarium by her nanny, who arrived by submarine, a writer and artist in her own right who now lives out a remarkably extended old age in Mexico City.
As for her novel, it's every bit as original and astounding as her life seems to have been. It's hard to pin down its charm to any one factor - the sideways wit that propels memorable bon mots as wise and unexpected in their own way as the paradoxes of Wilde, the boundless, unconventional imagination that takes us from a sinister home for elderly women to Grail-chasing intrigue in the 18th century to the next Ice Age and beyond - the narrative voice, that of an incredibly ancient, somewhat doddering but definitely alert and irreverent old woman (one wonders if Carrington was anticipating her own older self) or the somewhat breathtaking vision of personal and global transformation that underpins the whole work.
This novel was a study in the unexpected for me - from the gradual opening-out of scales that takes us from an admittedly unusual old woman's senescent musings to the end of the world as we know it as well as for the unexpected delight of finding something so funny, wise, smart, weird and magnificent by someone I'd never heard of before. I'm far more resigned to putting up with Penguin's next novelty edition of Dickens if it helps ensure that I continue making finds like this elsewhere on their list.