The protagonist, Desmond Bates was a Professor of Linguistics before he was forced to retire from his university career as a result of his deteriorating hearing. Four years after retirement, he is beginning to struggle with his freedom. He misses the routine of university and has made himself a daily routine that is no longer satisfying him. His relationship with his second wife Fred is beginning to flounder and he finds himself a pawn in a young university student's manipulative mind games.
Lodge has written Deaf Sentence largely as personal diary, from the first person perspective of Desmond. This is an effective way of telling the story because it provides us with an honest and uninhibited account of Desmond's experiences and thoughts on all the daily issues that affect him; his deafness, his relationship with his father and his wife and of course his adventures with Alex, the ominous PHD student that attaches herself to him.
As you can imagine if you were writing a diary of your own life, some parts are definitely more interesting than others, and I have to admit that I did skim those sections that didn't hold quite as much interest for me. I don't mean this in a bad way at all, if anything, it gave the book a more authentic feel.
At times, however, Lodge slips between the first and third person, which made the story seem rather halting and was both frustrating and uncessary.
It is the way in which the story in Deaf Sentence unfolds and changes that makes this book interesting.
The book begins almost as if it is going to be a comic novel about the difficulties of living with deafness. You can't help but laugh when you read about Desmond's failing batteries and whistling hearing aids. Just as you can't help but laugh at his visits to his ageing father's home and trips to the shopping centre for lunch where they both yell at each other across the table because they can't hear themselves speak.
(*Spoilers in this paragraph*) Progressively, however, the book's tone changes to something more serious. Deaf Sentence tackles much bigger themes than deafness. It looks at marriage, love, family, new life and death. We discover that Alex is revealed as a manipulator who is not to be trusted. Desmond's first wife died of cancer and Desmond himself assisted her to pass away without any pain. His father experiences a stroke before they can move him into a nursing home and he has to watch his father slowly fade away. Desmond visits Auschwitz and meditates on the nature of suffering. Finally and positively, a grandchild is born, little Desmond, bring new life and new hope.
The book is sensitive, but very realistic and I felt the choice of telling the story through Desmond's own words in his own diary greatly contributed to this sense of realism. You could sense Desmond attempting to solve those bigger and more profound life experiences and questions, but not really being able to capture what he wants to in his diary or even in his own mind.
Lodge himself admits that this book is close to being autobiographical. From what I understand, many of Lodge's usual themes and influences are very apparent in Deaf Sentence. His Catholic upbringing is reflected particularly in Desmond's wife Fred and her faith. He also drew on his own experience of deafness, academia and campus life to write this book. Having said that, the way in which Deaf Sentence is written seems to be a step away from his usual writing style, and whilst the diary entry style wasn't entirely successful, it served its purpose in portraying a unique interesting story in a realistic way.
Have read anything by David Lodge before? What do you think of him as an author? I am interested in reading some more of his books in order to gain a greater understanding of him as an author.