David Lodge

"Deaf Sentence"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky NOV 27, 2008)

"His retirement, however, put the whole phenomenon in a different and less agreeable perspective, and shifted the balance of their marriage. His career was over while Winifred's was steaming ahead, and she now brought considerably more money into the household than he did. Her days were brimming with activity while he struggled to fill his own with routine tasks like shopping, or other errands undertaken more for exercise than need."

David Lodge's Deaf Sentence is a seriocomic novel about a man whose quality of life is steadily declining. Desmond Bates, a former professor of linguistics, takes early retirement, mostly as a result of a hearing loss that began twenty years earlier as a result of "high-frequency deafness...caused by accelerated loss of the hair cells in the inner ear...." Since there is no treatment for this condition, Desmond resorts to hearing aids, which prove to be inconvenient and, in some circumstances, useless. As he dourly observes, "deafness is a kind of pre-death, a drawn-out introduction to the long silence into which we will all eventually lapse."

Now in his sixties, Desmond's life settles into a boring routine. His wife, Winifred (whom he calls Fred), on the other hand, is rejuvenated, partly as a result of the flourishing new interior design business that takes up most of her time. Adding to his dour mood, Desmond is worried about his eighty-nine year old father, Harry, who lives alone in London. Not only is Desmond's father also going deaf, but there are alarming signs that he is no longer able to care for himself adequately. Unfortunately, Harry refuses when Desmond offers to hire someone to look in on him and lend a hand with household chores.

Deaf Sentence is a deeply affecting novel that springs from the author's personal experience with high-frequency deafness. The book succeeds on many levels and is enhanced by Lodge's clever use of language, entertaining literary and cultural references, and vivid descriptive passages. One day, when Desmond is strolling across the campus where he used to teach, he encounters a horde of students pouring out of their classes. "I floated on their tide like a piece of academic wreckage," he muses with a hint of self-mockery. The author elevates the mundane by poignantly exploring the ebb and flow of marital relationships, the physical and mental decline that accompanies aging, and the enormous toll that a serious illness takes on the victim and Lodge conveys his knowledge of all these themes subtly, sensitively, and with a healthy dose of bracing humor.

Desmond is an engaging first-person narrator, who sometimes lapses into the third person, presumably to give himself a breather. Fred is a devoted and sympathetic spouse, but as the years go by, she is becoming more and more exasperated by her husband's annoying peccadilloes, especially his increasing reliance on alcohol. Desmond is beginning to feel like "a redundant appendage to the family, an unfortunate liability" who no longer commands the respect that he once took for granted. To complicate matters further, an attractive but unstable young student named Alex Loom threatens to upend Desmond's already shaky existence when she asks him to supervise her dissertation on "the stylistic analysis of suicide notes." Should he risk getting involved with this possibly predatory female?

This novel draws us in more and more, and the suspense builds steadily. We wonder how Desmond and Fred will adjust to the shift in their respective roles; what Desmond will do when his father can no longer live alone; and whether or not Desmond will give in to the lovely Alex in order to salve his battered ego. Lodge's vivid characters soon become familiar acquaintances whom we get to know so well that it is difficult to part with them. Deaf Sentence is an outstanding example of the alchemy that occurs when a gifted author tackles a topic that he understands intimately. This is a touching, funny, and wise book, and one of the best of the year.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 35 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

The Campus Novels



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About the Author:

david lodgeDavid Lodge was born in South London in 1935. He is a graduate and Honorary Fellow of University College London, obtaining a BA in 1955 and an MA in 1959. He went on to obtain a PhD at the University of Birmingham and taught English there from 1960 until 1987, when he retired to become a full-time writer.

He has won several awards including the Whitbread Book of the Year in 1980 for How Far Can You Go? and his novels Small World and Nice Work shortlisted for the Booker Price. Therapy won the 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Several of his novels have been adapted into television series, including Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

He retains the title of Honorary Professor of Modern English Literature at the University and continues to live in Birmingham.

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