The Shape of Sound by Fiona Murphy
‘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.