Deaf sentence is a journal which begins on November 1 and ends on March 8. It describes the vital experience of Desmond Bates, a sixty something former linguistics professor at a nameless University, who is forced into early retirement as he is becoming hearing impaired.
As he feels his aging life is steadily declining both physically and mentally toward illness and disability, he has the sense of becoming a burden to the family. He has reached a point in his existence where he is questioning everything. Excluded from social and intellectual life due to his progressive deafness and also excluded from sexual life due to his background of impotence, he confesses being bored and rather useless. On the contrary Fred, his younger wife seems to be rejuvenated, partly as a result of cosmetic surgery and in part due to her new successful interior design business helped along by her best friend Jakki.
The narrator’s main concern is his father Harry, an almost ninety-year old stubborn man, and once a big band musician who is also going deaf, dresses like a tramp and lives independently in his dreary gloomy London home, although he cannot be trusted to take care of himself without endangering his life.
Despite the thoughts on aging, marriage, seduction, isolation, drawbacks and benefits of deafness and a deep reflection on life fragility, the narrator drifts from the serious to the humorous as our hero tries to solve the dilemma he has been driven into when he meets Alex Loom, a mentally unbalanced young American graduate student who is obsessed with him supervising her thesis about linguistics in suicide notes. Desmond’s life seems to be up ended as she threatens to spoil his already shaky life. As her slightly inane and sexually provocative pursuit of Desmond confuses him even more, and leaves his darker side uncovered.
David Lodge conveys a subtle and sensitive realistic description of these matters of life with a healthy dose of exhilarating humor. The daily situations pictured in the book, turn the story into a comedy of exasperation, physical ineptitude and verbal slip-up, where communication with people around him is becoming difficult , as they all go through confusing, embarrassing misunderstandings, with comic results. In addition, Desmond struggles with the troublesome hearing aids that prove to be inconvenient because of the shrieks and whistles, and the batteries running out. Nevertheless there is not cruelty but compassion and sympathy with hard hearing people, and also not short in mirth and humor; like the family Christmas pictured when old Harry, loudly discusses his constipation and is taken short in the garden or the New Year jaunt ruined by drink and solidifying ear-wax.
By the last two chapters Desmond’s life reaches a crucial point, the rhythm of the novel changes with a trip to Krakón where his visits to the concentration camps and the crematorium in Auschwitz. Afterwards Desmond’s memories of Maisie, his first wife who had died of cancer, become more vivid as his father suffers a stroke, which leaves him a bitter man. Fred and Desmond discuss about the issue of Harry being fed through the PEG tube, and how they considered that nature should take his course. At this point we find many thoughts on deafness and death; blindness is tragic, and deafness is comic the author repeats… “Death is tragic” he finally says. The whole last chapter is about what we might hear from beyond the grave, and thereby the birth of her daughter’s baby looks like the representation of the beginning of human life cycle at an event focused on its end.
In my personal opinion it is a witty lovely novel that has got to my heart after certain experiences, and has left me a message; all we have while we are alive, is the capacity to laugh and love.
Mercedes Martín Panero, Advanced level. Year 2