Matilda Bathurst The Millions:
Down Below is a troublesome book full of mystic reckonings and fragmented occlusions. As an autobiographical account of Carrington’s incarceration in a Spanish psychiatric hospital during the Second World War it is, as Marina Warner writes in her introduction, “an unsparing account of the experience of being insane.” You need to have acquired a certain prestige for a book like that to sell, and I felt a similar skepticism towards the new short stories. Knowing Carrington’s tendency for tail-chasing dream narratives, I didn’t necessarily expect them to be literary masterpieces. And I still can’t really claim that they are. Here’s the thing: Carrington resists all critical categories.
Any article about Carrington should probably start with an account of her life, a fiction in its own right. Carrington would no doubt subvert this tradition and so I’ll start with her death, which shocked everyone. Shocked, mainly because no one in 2011 expected her to be alive — to be 94, still living in Mexico, still notoriously “difficult” and still painting (she had renounced writing in 1980). British-born Carrington had made Mexico her home after marrying the diplomat Renato Leduc in 1941, a marriage of convenience which enabled her to bypass her parents’ plans to send her to an asylum in South Africa. Here, the story blurs. Over the course of the previous year, Carrington, aged just 23, had been under the charge of Dr. Morales at his hospital in Santander; there she was treated with Cardiazol, a drug designed to replicate the effects of electro-shock therapy through chemically-induced convulsions. Down Below is Carrington’s account of that time. Visions fill the spaces life left behind.