If you enjoy sharp-witted and sometimes dark-edged novels about academia, you probably are familiar with the writer David Lodge. In his novels Small World, Changing Places, and Thinks, among others, Lodge has skewered the pretensions of academics and pointed out the petty jealousies and rivalries that can exist in the most staid of university departments. Lodge finds a lot of humor in these settings, much of it fairly biting satire. In his latest book though, Lodge moves back and forth between his usual acerbic satire and a more gentle and affectionate humor.
Deaf Sentence tells the story of retired university professor of linguistics Desmond Bates, who is gradually losing his hearing. He increasingly finds himself nodding in agreement when he is not sure what he is agreeing to, which causes an occasional social faux pas at parties. He finds that this habit causes more problems for him when he inadvertently agrees to assist a comely American graduate student on her dissertation on the linguistics of suicide notes. Unlike much academic fiction, where this action would lead to a torrid but unhappy affair and the dissolution of Bates’s marriage, here Bates avoids the usual trap and manages to dissociate himself from an increasingly disturbing relationship.
At the same time he is dealing with his own hearing loss, which for a man who has devoted his professional life to the sound of language is doubly disturbing, Bates also find himself increasingly responsible for his aging and ailing father. The relationship between the two is not easy, but Lodge captures the underlying affection between the two that forms a bond that is not easily shaken.
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