This week, book club finally met to discuss David Lodge’s excellent novel, Deaf Sentence (we had to postpone a month due to various schedule conflicts). The protagonist, Desmond Bates, is a middle-aged linguistics professor who has retired from his job because of high-frequency deafness. Lodge’s description of Desmond’s condition is based on his own experiences with hearing loss. He has a number poignant quotes about the experience of deafness: e.g. “although blindness is tragic, deafness may be comic, ” or at the very least lacking in poetry. “The blind have pathos” he writes. “Sighted people regard them with compassion,” while the hard of hearing are regarded as lazy and dim. Desmond watches his wife Winifred’s career as an interior designer flourish while he languishes in a boring routine interrupted only by concerns about caring for his elderly father Harry. Adding to Desmond’s troubles is Alex Loom, a clueless and utterly strange graduate student who hopes Desmond will guide her dissertation project on the linguistic aspects of suicide notes. At first, I feared this set-up would degenerate into slapstick, but Lodge balances out the comedy with frequent literary allusions and reflections on the human condition. This is certainly one of his best novels — I wasn’t really impressed with the last few — so it was nice to see him return to the grace and wit he showed in Changing Places and Small World. Highly recommended — and a good choice for holiday reading given his hilarious send-up of the joys and horrors of family Christmas celebrations.
P.S. Now that I think about it, Lodge’s comments about blindness are rather disturbing. I have friends and colleagues who are blind — they don’t consider this a tragedy, nor do they like being seen as “helpless” or even poetic (remember, even positive stereotypes are still oppressive).
Also, forgot to mention the next selection — Connecticut native Wally Lamb’s new book, The Hour I First Believed.