During my twenties and thirties, I read an awful lot of Latin American “magical realism” novels – huge great volumes by the likes of Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Borges and Roberto Bolano. They had a knack of mixing the real world with magical elements, creating a world which was both real and – not. In its way, it had a lot in common with surrealism, but without the psychoanalysis.
As someone well acquainted with the Surrealists, it would come as no surprise that Leonora Carrington’s best known novel has distinctly other-worldly elements, yet it is set firmly in a reality that is very believable. It also illustrates an instinctive belief in female spirituality and the role of religion in the oppression of women. It’s surprisingly feminist, if I’m honest. On top of which there’s also plenty of politics – not bad for barely 150 pages!
Marian Leatherby is an ugly elderly woman who is sent by her son and his family to live in a residential home for senile old women. Whilst there, she encounters a secret Goddess cult and accidentally brings around the end of the world. Believe me when I tell you this does not do the book any kind of justice. It is so very much more, but it would be impossible to explain. You’d just have to read it.
I’m at an age now where I can’t be considered young – my childbearing years are certainly over – and I find myself starting to approach “old lady” status. This book has left me looking forward to it. Being old shouldn’t mean that I should stop thinking I can change the world – age has nothing to do with it. This is a delicious, bonkers, life-affirming book that was written by a woman of a certain age for women of a certain age. It’s a remarkable find and (typically) nowhere near as well known as it ought to be. It should be a feminist classic and I’m going to do my damnedest to make sure it becomes one.