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David Lodge

I just read, and very much enjoyed, 'Deaf Sentence' by David Lodge. This was the first DL I have ever read. Its chief character is ageing, retired, Desmond Bates, a professor of linguistics who is going deaf. Not a great deal happens in the book dramatically, it's simply a narration of his everyday life.  There is a lot about his experiences of deafness, problems with conversations and the cussedness of his hearing aid. The book is also about how he copes with his difficult father - who is also deaf- his wife Winifred (Fred) and a young female, american student who wants his help with her thesis on the linguistics of suicide-notes.  The book starts as social comedy- it's often funny, but as the book proceeds, and Desmond's father becomes ill, it grows darker and more solemn. The title 'Deaf Sentence' is, of course, a pun on 'death sentence' and there are puns on 'deaf and death' throughout. I gradually became aware that the deafness is probably a metaphor for the creeping sense of mortality that is a daily thought for ageing people.
Lodge is a very fine writer and I enjoyed every word, not wanting to miss any and I had a long session yesterday finishing it. Having a linguistics professor as his hero allows Lodge to go off into some very entertaining linguistic riffs - about the subtleties of a Wonderbra advertisement, why the rhythm of American place names makes them so suitable for inclusion in popular songs, and on the use of the word 'Norfolk' in Noel Coward's 'Private Lives'.  An unusual aspect of the book is how it swaps from first-person narrative to third-person from time to time which is slightly disorientating each time it happens. A very literate and classy novel. Anyone else a David Lodge fan?

One David Lodge fan here, Evie is one too.

I'm currently reading his earlier novel Paradise News in which a middleaged theologian together with his elderly father  travels to Honolulu to visit the latter's dying sister. She, having refused the temporary respite of chemotherapy for her skin cancer and secondary tumours and long estranged from any family, wishes to see him once more and to settle her affairs  . Lodge's skillfully light touch with such serious subjects is both moving and highly entertaining.

I think Lodge is a wonderful writer.  If you've only just discovered him then you're in for a treat!

I'd particularly recommend Small World and Nice Work.  I didn't even know about Deaf Sentence, so will have to look out for that.

I see our library has 6 David Lodge books, including a novella and a set of essays. Not Nice Work or Paradise News.  I have never read him or even particularly noticed him, apart from Author Author which seemed to make a bit of a stir, I recall.  Will definitely put him on my reading list for next year, thanks.

Cheers, Caro.

Mike - I read Deaf Sentence just before Christmas (I mentioned it a few times on the 'What are you reading?/Monthly reads' threads, but I imagine not everyone reads those!).  You and I seem to be in some kind of serendipitous reading phase - see my note on your blog!  I heard a discussion of Deaf Sentence on A Good Read a while back, and decided it was time I read another David Lodge.

I loved Deaf Sentence - I love Lodge's work generally, he makes me laugh out loud but is also a very shrewd observer of people and weaves some serious issues into his humorous books.  It gave me good insights into what it is like to be going deaf.  And the scenes with Desmond and his father were very moving.  Lodge has a great touch, and there is a warmth to his writing that makes him very companionable.  

Sorry it's taken me so long to reply to your post!  I am a bit haphazard in my posting these days.

spidernick wrote:
I think Lodge is a wonderful writer.  If you've only just discovered him then you're in for a treat!

I'd particularly recommend Small World and Nice Work.

Thos two are my favourites, too. I must admit I've picked up a couple of his most recent ones and had a look and put them down again. 'Deaf Sentence' and 'Thinks'. The pages of text of this latter just looked too dense for my taste, and I felt I'd struggle to read and enjoy it.

'Paradise News' was quite good fun. But I loved the 'Nice Work' TV version years ago, with Warren Clarke and ...? (actress with very long hair!  Confused ), and I can just see those two characters when I reread it.

Haydn Gwynne, I think.  I'd love to see that again!

I finished Deaf Sentence today and loved it.  I was going to write about it, but Mike has said most of it really.  I would query his statement that nothing much dramatic happens - I suppose that depends on your definition of dramatic but there is a death, a birth, a moving visit to Auschwitz, and various social events with definite drama, as well as the really quite sinister business with the student.

One or two bits I wanted to mention/ask about.  I loved the way this book and its author addressed the problems of aging and death.  Very near the end - I don't think this is a spoiler - he talks of the best way to die and wonders which way you would choose.  "Something painlessly, obviously, but not so sudden that you would not have time to take it in, to say goodbye to life, to hold it in your hand, as it were and let it go; but on the other hand not so long-drawn-out as to be tedious or terrifying.  Something painless, dignified...fully conscious, all faculties intact, not too quick, not too slow, at home not in hospital so not a heart attack, not a stroke, not cancer, not an air crash or a car crash - oh, what's the point, nothing will do..."  Often I love passages in books that make me think and consider but this passage I loved because it said exactly what I think and feel and bother about more than I should.

On a much lighter note, near the start of the book he talks of humour and deafness and says that the punchline's humour lies in the fact that it is unexpected so reading the play or whatever first takes away from it, even if it allows you to know more what is happening.  I disagree with that - I think people often anticipate more or less exactly the punchline and that anticipation funds part of the joke.  And people still laugh at television programmes they have seen often (Fawlty Towers for instance).  

I thought I would like to recommend this to my husband, but have realised that while he would like the tone, the humorous elements and the style, the content would upset him.  He is not keen on considering death, but also his elderly father died a while ago and while his death was not drawn out or too difficult, nevertheless visits to his house had that same rather painful feel to them and it tended to be a relief to leave and then you felt guilty for that relief.  I found the portrayal of his father extraordinarily good in its realism and understanding, both of behaviour and motivation.  

And the situation with the student Alex is also brilliantly handled; in another writer it could have been more sinister and disturbing, but as it was the possibility that the situation could easily arise just as portrayed is considerable.  The ambivalence he felt when teased and tempted by her seem only too likely and the ease with which things can get out of hand.  

I also liked the fact that while there was no hiding from unpleasant facts of life this was not at all a bleak book.  The joy of life and the attractiveness of people generally was there all the time for me anyway.

I really liked it.  And must try more of his works.  

Cheers, Caro.

Yes, I agree with all of that, Caro, thanks for posting it!  It is that balance between seriousness and humour that I think he does brilliantly.  The relationship in the book with the father is wonderfully done, poignant and ultimately very moving, but with plenty of humour along the way, because it's very real!  He manages both to make humour out of the father's situation, and yet show great compassion - it's quite a skill!

As for punchlines - I know what you mean, but there is also that sense that if you have to keep shouting the punchline of a joke, the humour is gone by the time it gets through - timing is part of comedy, and it's not that it isn't funny afterwards, but the deaf person can't share in a linguistic joke at the same time as everyone else.  I did think he highlighted some of the daily frustrations of being deaf very well.

To switch from laugh-out-loud funny to serious musings on death via a trip to Auschwitz and make it so successful is impressive - nothing is trivialised, and we never feel guilty for laughing.  He does this in his books generally, but it was particularly impressive here, I thought, because of the seriousness of those serious parts.

Thank you, Evie, for suggesting I look here. I have just finished Deaf Sentence and was very interested in everyone's comments. I was saddened by the struggles with deafness in the book because I have close friends and family with similar problems and it is extemely isolating. I felt the author was both in mourning for the creeping loss his deafness was creating as well as desperately trying to find the funny side. The book was on a tight rope all the way through between those two attitudes, not just with the deafness but the problems with a student who could easily ruin one's career and an aging father. In these areas, and others,  David Lodge skilfully balanced comedy and tragedy.
I enjoyed the liguistics, too, as my daughter did her degree in that subject.

Dear Sentence was disappointing to me:  I do love puns, but the theme was a bit too close for comfort to this rapidly-losing-her-hearing old bat.  
Also, I wanted to strangle that student!  Normally I find DL laugh-out-loud funny.

Deaf Sentence is impressive for the ways it covers deafness and approaching old age. Others have commented favourably on these aspects and I can only agree. The linguistic information is a bonus as is the humour which is expertly conveyed especially in a party scene near the end of the novel. Highly recommended.

After enjoying Deaf Sentence I decided to try Author, Author (2004) which has been recommended on this Board. It was the theatrical background that caught my attention as I was unaware that Henry James had written plays; I knew about the short stories (but not how many in so many volumes!) and his reputation for mannered novels about Americans in Europe but was never tempted to try one. Well, Lodge has persuaded me to start on the short stories after reading this novel which is almost a complete biography of HJ.
I was expecting the usual competent professional writing from someone of David Lodge’s talent – what I wasn’t expecting was that he would write the novel in what I think is called a Jamesian style. I am beginning to realise why HJ is so highly rated these days and why Lodge has written the following about his career

Following the death of Henry in 1916 there were a few decades of relative obscurity before he would become an established classic, essential reading for anyone interested in modern English and American literature and the aesthetics of the novel, that all his major works and most of his minor ones would be constantly in print, scrupulously edited, annotated, and studied in schools, colleges and universities around the world.

Not forgetting that at the time Lodge was finishing HIS novel, Emma Tennant had written about the relationship of HJ and Constance Fenimore Woolson and Colm Toibin was also publishing an HJ novel.
Percy Bysshe

I've read most of David Lodge's books and really enjoyed them.  The first one I read was "Nice Work", and I quickly collected as many of his books as I could (thanks to local charity shops).  I have to say, I hadn't heard of "Deaf Sentence" so I'll be looking out for that one.
Green Jay

Deaf Sentence is on my TBR.
Green Jay

Castorboy wrote:

Not forgetting that at the time Lodge was finishing HIS novel, Emma Tennant had written about the relationship of HJ and Constance Fenimore Woolson and Colm Toibin was also publishing an HJ novel.

I've read the Emma Tennant one, Felony. It's quite a slim novel and made me want to know more about James. Lodge wrote a few rather grumpy articles about the coincidence of both him and Toibin bringing out novels about James at the same time. I can't remember much but I think Lodge must have been pipped at the post over publication dates. It sounded un-Lodge like to be so snippy, though - I thought from his novels that he had quite a sense of humour.

The subject of the novel Therapy is a late-middle-aged man going through the depression of a mid-life crisis. The first part covers his job as a sit-com writer and the weekly therapy sessions he needs to cope with the stress. The next part is the viewpoints of those closest to him both at home and at the TV station while the last part finds Laurence Passmore trying to recapture his zest for living by remembering the early years of his adolescence.

A familiar if not banal story but enlived by the skill of Lodge. He has the ability to insert into his novel the two diverse interests of existential philosophy and the St James the Apostle pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain without compromising the plotline. The scenes in which Laurence convinces himself that he is replicating Soren Kierkegaard’s love life (or lack of it) are hilarious as is the running gag of Laurence’s knee operation and its aftermath. Running is not quite the right word; he had been a reasonable tennis player, now he is restricted to playing in a cumbersome manner with three fellow players suffering from a variety of complaints – one wears a back corset, one limps with both legs, and the last one has a plastic hip joint. The episode in which a match is attempted is pure Pythonesque as each player tries to place shots to the weakest area of their rivals’ mobility.

This 1995 novel is the third of his I have read in the last six months; all recommended.

I enjoyed Therapy very much too, Castorboy - I love Lodge's humour - I read it ages ago, but still chuckle at the relatively unsophisticated joke of calling the knee doctor Dr Nizar, aka 'Knees R Us'.

As ever, I love the way he mixes humour and more serious matters - the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was touching, and he does have a real skill for combining serious and spiritual (in the broadest sense) without compromising either - not an easy thing to do.

Just after I finished Deaf Sentence (this morning) I went online and ordered more David Lodge books. Two novels, Thinks and The British Museum is Falling Down and The Art of Fiction, a book of essays.

I loved Deaf Sentence even the changes to third person in certain chapters,  afterall Professor Bates did say he was keeping his journal as an excercise in writing. Much of the book echoed with my life and I read the last chapters with tears in my eyes. Definitely a book I would recommend to anyone.

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