Deaf Sentence: David Lodge

Retired Professor of Linguistics, Desmond Bates, is grappling with increasing deafness. Whether handling the adjustment to life as a house-husband, insecurity over his wife’s growing independence or juggling the regular trips to London to visit his aging father, Desmond is finding the world an increasingly difficult place to navigate. As Lodge puts it, ‘Deafness is comic, as blindness is tragic’. At a gallery opening – all hard surfaces and background noise – a bluffed conversation with a wayward and unpredictable young student leaves him even further adrift, without a clue how he got there.

This is well-trodden territory for the master of the campus novel, but fans will be pleased to note that all Lodge’s trademark delights are on display: a love of the farcical; warm, compassionate characterisation; a hapless male protagonist; and effortless shifting between pointy-headed academic digressions and plot machinations. Unfortunately, this doesn’t match his classic free-wheeling creations of Changing Places and Small World. But if the ‘domestic bliss at risk’ plots and barrage of hearing-loss puns never quite add up to much, the digressions on historical and literary attitudes to deafness are enlightening and amusing, and the relationships that Lodge sketches are heartfelt and moving.