The Shape Of Sound

Fiona Murphy

The Shape Of Sound
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The Shape Of Sound

Fiona Murphy

I am still unlearning the habit of secrecy. And yet, whenever somebody discovers that I am deaf, my body still reacts with churning terror. How do you build up a sense of robust pride when your body has taught itself to be fearful?

Fiona Murphy’s memoir about being deaf is a revelation.

Secrets are heavy, burdensome things. Imagine carrying a secret that if exposed could jeopardise your chances of securing a job and make you a social outcast. Fiona Murphy kept her deafness a secret for over twenty-five years.

But then, desperate to hold onto a career she’d worked hard to pursue, she tried hearing aids. Shocked by how the world sounded, she vowed never to wear them again. After an accident to her hand, she discovered that sign language could change her life, and that Deaf culture could be part of her identity.

Just as Fiona thought she was beginning to truly accept her body, she was diagnosed with a rare condition that causes the bones of the ears to harden. She was steadily losing her residual hearing. The news left her reeling.

Blending memoir with observations on the healthcare industry, The Shape of Sound is a story about the corrosive power of secrets, stigma and shame, and how deaf experiences and disability are shaped by economics, social policy, medicine and societal expectations.

This is the story of how Fiona learns to listen to her body. If you enjoy the writing of Bri Lee and Fiona Wright, this is a book for you.

Review

‘The hearing world rarely welcomes deaf bodies,’ writes Fiona Murphy in her heartbreakingly honest memoir The Shape of Sound. Murphy kept secret that she is deaf in her left ear for 25 years. In her debut, she explores the social, environmental, economic and political impacts of deafness. She weaves research on deaf public figures such as Churchill and Beethoven – as well as facts and statistics – with her own personal experience to create a brilliant and touching memoir that completely draws the reader in. Murphy doesn’t hold back, and I laughed with her and cried with her. There is complete vulnerability and honesty on every page.

The Shape of Sound covers Murphy’s story from the age of five to the woman she is today. We witness the discovery of her deafness and the struggles she faces learning and fitting in at school, where she is initially ashamed of her disability, and thinks of it as something to ‘overcome’. She withholds her deafness when applying for university and jobs and hides it from anyone who enters her life. We see her slowly withdraw. But her strength and persistence force her out of her isolation and drive her to learn how to celebrate her disability.

‘I now see that society has been sold a simple story about hearing loss when it’s really not simple at all’. With this book, Murphy invites readers along a similar path of unlearning assumptions around deafness and being Deaf. Reading Murphy’s story made me realise how little I understand about deafness and my own ableism. The media has led us to believe hearing aids are an easy fix for deafness. But Murphy shows just how wrong that is. Her experience with hearing aids was heartbreaking and eye opening. This is a devastatingly powerful memoir that is full of hope, loneliness and resilience. Murphy forced me to acknowledge my own privilege and, in doing so, completely reframed my understanding of the world.


Lucie Dess is the marketing assistant at Readings.

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