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Down Below

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,066 ratings  ·  128 reviews
Nonfiction. Fiction. Translated from the French by Victor Llona. DOWN BELOW is an account of Leonora Carrington's travels to Spain after having been declared "incurably insane." Carrington wrote and painted as a defender of the Surrealist movement into the twentieth century. DOWN BELOW was first published in 1944. This recent publication includes new collages by Debra Taub ...more
Paperback, 56 pages
Published January 1st 1983 by Black Swan Books, Limited (first published 1945)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,066 ratings  ·  128 reviews

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Sean A.
Surrealist painter and writer Leonora Carrington is going sort of insane. Also happening is the beginning of World War 2. Her partner, one Max Ernst, is sent to a concentration camp, and she begins to perform strange rituals (both visible to others and only visible to her interiority) and make strange connections.

Worse than this though for Leonora, is the anguish of being institutionalized shortly thereafter. She doesn't know where she is, she is not told, after being abducted by her captors, b
I've long been interested in Leonora Carrington - her writing, her paintings, her story. Did you know she was a founding member of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s in Mexico? Not a dull moment, that one.

Then she had this whole thing with Surrealist painter, Max Ernst, and I get all twitchy because how many female artists had unfortunate relationships with other artistic sorts who generally get more attention than they did? Most are more familiar with the name Max Ernst than they are
Nate D
Poking about in my favorite bookstore in the city, the small but concentratedly splendid Book Thug Nation, I suddenly struck precisely the sort of unexpected find that keeps me pouring over dense-packed shelves with no idea what I'm looking for in the first place. Leonora Carrington may be my favorite writer of the first, interwar, wave of surrealists, with a deft touch for humor and sensible absurdity. I'm resolved to hunt down whatever I can from her, but she's only got a single book in print ...more
Ben Loory
I’ve been really enjoying Carrington’s short stories, working my way through them very slowly, but this was a bit of a let-down. I’m all for memoirs of madness— and this is definitely one!— but it just feels too slight; there’s no real meat to it, it’s there and then it’s gone and there’s no real conflict or even movement. At the end it seems to be saying it was dictated to someone, and not actually written by Carrington, which makes sense— it feels like she sat down one afternoon and just told ...more
Lucy Somerhalder
Leonora is SO great. I love her. And this is an incredible account of madness. A lucid(ish) account of madness from the pen of the 'mad'. But jeez. Max Ernst. What a dick. ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The task of the right eye is to peer into the telescope, while the left eye peers into the microscope.”
Emily M
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
I’m not a big fan of the modern trend for memoirs. They always seem polished to within an inch of their lives, constructed as carefully as novels, but without recourse to the drama and freedom of fiction. In general, I’m not a big fan of the whole confessional non-fiction thing, whether in articles or books.

This is no modern memoir, and I liked that about it. On one level, it’s probably woefully inadequate. The reader has to fill in what isn’t on the page with what he or she knows about Leonora
Yolo Yearwood
Easily summed up as the summary notes, "its raw evocation of madness." True story, first person account of getting locked away in an insane asylum in World War II by someone who was pals with art collector Peggy Guggenheim and lovers with Surrealism master Max Ernst. She has a nervous breakdown when Max is arrested by the Gestapo leaving her alone, and her parents lock her away in the sanitarium. All of that sounds normal compared to what she goes through mentally when in the insane asylum. In f ...more
Vividly, dreamily terrifying.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, 2018
2.5 rounded to a 3.

Carrington's madness screams throughout this brief work. The pages bleed her sickness along with the sickness she endured in the insane asylum.

Eh, it was ok.
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The stereotype of the crazy “femme-enfant” of surrealism (the whimsical, mad, childish muse of the artist) seen in Breton’s Nadja, is presented here in a non-romanticized light and humanized. Carrington oscillates between the subjective and the view of the external other to describe her descent into madness and her metaphysical voyage. Her fantastical yet deadpan writings give a voice to the surrealist feminine hysteric while simultaneously criticizing the world of psychiatry and its ideas of no ...more
Nancy Oakes
Jeezus H. Although Down Below is an incredible book, don't read it at night just before going to bed. I made that very mistake and was so troubled I couldn't sleep. I finished it about 3 a.m. this morning and have been up ever since.

collecting thoughts & then back with more.
Callum McAllister
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Man that was a bad time.
Bud Smith
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"I wondered who would help someone, dressed in a bed sheet and a pencil, to get to Madrid." ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is intense and weird in terms of its events but tbh the pacing is the strangest thing about it, it rolls through it all so fast. It just adds to the surrealism though, everything is fluid (fiction + fact, time, place etc etc) and maybe a bit uncanny, and this is what really hooked me in, I think.
John Antoniello
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
File this one under the same category as Plath’s The Bell Jar and Janet Frame’s Faces in the Water. Leonora challenges the Surrealist obsession & objectification of the ‘femme-enfant’ with her own methodically unromantic experience of madness. In doing so, Carrington creates an important historic document of how mental illness is all too often treated with barbaric, abusive and dehumanizing measures – a reminder that is as uncomfortably true today as it was when she experienced it 75 years ago.
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Everything the woman does is gold, but this is a particularly interesting tale about being classified as "insane" and institutionalized. A strange point in history and Carrington's personal life, there is an imaginative quality to the disturbing psychological depths explored and investigated here. A book written with deep knowledge and a fair amount of distance from what it accounts. ...more
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
An unstintingly harrowing account of the author's institutionalization and the abuses she endured at a sanatorium in Spain during WWII. ...more
Eliza Verhovsek
This book is exactly what it is about, madness. That is the easiest way to describe it. You are not only reading about madness, but also reading madness. It is nonsensical and delirious. It is out of this world and yet it is grounded in the harsh prison of one's own psychology.

I knew upon first reading this novel that it was an autobiography by Leonora Carrington, however - within the first few pages I began to question my own certainty. Leonora’s voice is so removed from her madness and so la
Matthew White
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gothic
A sleight scrawl that essentially reads as a travel journal in the reluctantly wayfaring spirit of an Eland publication. It's a smudged snapshot of dystopia, of being jolted, with the associated dementia that rattles around in the wake of a displacement. Down Below presents the ascent, cold sweat and aftermath of nausea onset by eventual circumstance.

Lyrically, the text is relatively simplistic, but its craft presents the opportunity for divulgence into its meaning. The author's compulsion to r
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, read-more-women
I feel so upset that I didn't know anything about Leonora Carrington until I picked up this book. I felt an immediate urgency about it: a short essay covering her time in a mental institution where she was held against her will and mistreated it takes about an hour to read maybe two and most of that I spent on the really thorough introduction. I also know very little about Surrealism but I'm definitely going to be following up on some of the leads in this book.

Carrington was ill, she needed tre
Chuck LoPresti
The first NYRB book I've read where with each page an increasing desire to set it down was the dominant thought. I've suffered through a ton of surrealist babble - but this might have been the least interesting of it all. If you know the feeling of trying to start your day while your toddler explains a dream in full detail - you know the experience. That she was lucid enough during her insanity to record it with detail and personal insight is interesting. Otherwise - it was well...short. ...more
What is truly frightening is how calm and measured Carrington is throughout the book, even being very precise with the visions/hallucinations while documenting them. Indirectly, this book is also an account of the external effects of Cardiazol, administered to her in an attempt to stop her psychosis, but with the side-effects of intensely experienced fear.

One can't help but be held in awe of her self-assurance and immense will to live, given the horrendous events she had to undergo.
Nov 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Although this account was apparently dictated, the language is crisp and alive. Carrington recounts her psychosis during a period of the second world war, at which time she was incarcerated in a Spanish mental institution and labeled incurably insane. Her recollection of this time is fascinating because it's such a detailed, lucid report of a prolonged episode of psychosis. ...more
Alan Reese
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
An account of her horrifying institutionalization in an insane asylum in Spain where she was subjected to injections of Cardizol which induced seizures. As surrealistic and dream-like as her paintings. My brain yearned for more data so I am seeking out some more traditional biographic material.
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I gave birth to my daughter eleven years ago I suffered from a severe bout of post-partum depression. About two weeks after she was born it was as if a cloud or a thick fog had descended over me and I no longer felt like myself. I could barely move except to do the most essential tasks to take care of my newborn and was silent for most of the day. I also felt a deep sense of embarrassment over experiencing this depression because what should have been one of the happiest times of my life wa ...more
Tracy Gaughan
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though intriguing, one can't help but feel a little shortchanged. The text itself is a quite short, translated dictation so probably not evocative of Carrington's writing style. Warner's intro, though highly informative, runs to fourteen pages! Carrington's psychotic episode was reflective of the earth-rattling madness going on around her, in the lead up to WW2. And what struck me reading this incredible artist's account of that insanity and her terrifying incarceration in a Spanish institution, ...more
Jan 09, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a piece of literature in and of itself, I don't think this small book with relatively simple prose is particularly interesting; but given sufficient context of the author's life and how the events in this memoir impacted her, it does become an amusing little read. Thankfully for those like myself who were not already familiar with Leonara Carrington or her work as a maestra of surrealist art, this NYRB edition provides a 30+ page introduction, which is particularly lengthy given that the memo ...more
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"I don't accept your force, the power of any of you, against me; I want my freedom to act and think; I hate and reject your hypnotic forces. . .
I am not the public property of your house. I, too, have private thoughts and a private value. I don't belong to you."

Surrounded by a brief biography by Marina Warner; a beautiful and intense recount of what has mostly been called a 'descent into female madness' or to me, moreso coping with cruelty towards the unconventional.

I love the way Carrington th
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-read

This is an autobiographical account of Leonora Carrington's brief time in a mental asylum after she's been diagnosed incurably insane.

First of all.. who is Leonora? She's not at the top of our minds when I mention her name..

She's an artist, mainly surrealism which bloomed shortly before WWII, but she remained well-known for her work afterwards too.

She's born into English middle-class, fitted for a life that wasn't made for her. It made her break free en fl
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NYRB Classics: Down Below, by Leonora Carrington 2 16 Mar 17, 2017 06:13PM  

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Leonora Carrington was an English-born Mexican artist, surrealist painter, and novelist. She lived most of her adult life in Mexico City, and was one of the last surviving participants in the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. Carrington was also a founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico during the 1970s.

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“I think she was mistaken when she said I was torturing myself. I think that she interpreted me fragmentarily, which is worse than not to interpret at all.” 17 likes
“How could I write this when I don't even dare think about it? I am terribly anguished, yet I cannot continue living alone with such a memory...I know that once this has been written down, I shall be delivered. You must know, otherwise I shall be persecuted to the end of my living days. But shall I be able to express with mere words the horror of that day?” 8 likes
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