David Lodge’s fourteenth novel, Deaf Sentence, takes up similar themes from his earlier campus novels, this time from the perspective of retired professor of linguistics, Desmond Bates, who finds himself at loss now that his job has gone the way of his hearing. The story is told through Desmond’s journal, which he has taken up as a way to sort through his conflicting feelings about his deafness and his retirement.
The academic rivalry, potential for mischief with graduate students, strained marital relations, musings on religion or its alternatives, and bookish references are all there, although mellowed some with Desmond’s years. The kinky – maybe crazy – come-ons of an American Phd. candidate are more panic-inducing than titillating for Desmond. He is filled with “late-flowering lust” for his wife, although sometimes incapable of following through. Caring for his 89-year-old father leads to general deliberations on aging and mortality. And through it all, Desmond fumbles and fiddles with his hearing aids, mis-understands conversations, and ponders the science and art of deafness, all to great comic effect.
After starting off as hearing-impaired slapstick, Deaf Sentence ends on a more somber, contemplative note. But throughout, the book is an enjoyable ramble with one of Britain’s great novelists.
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