Deaf Sentence: A Novel

Deaf Sentence: A Novel

3.6 13
by David Lodge

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The subject of enthusiastic and widespread reviews, David Lodge's fourteenth work of fiction displays the humor and shrewd observations that have made him a much-loved icon. Deaf Sentence tells the story of Desmond Bates, a recently retired linguistics professor in his mid-sixties. Vexed by his encroaching deafness and at loose ends in his personal life, Desmond… See more details below


The subject of enthusiastic and widespread reviews, David Lodge's fourteenth work of fiction displays the humor and shrewd observations that have made him a much-loved icon. Deaf Sentence tells the story of Desmond Bates, a recently retired linguistics professor in his mid-sixties. Vexed by his encroaching deafness and at loose ends in his personal life, Desmond inadvertently gets involved with a seemingly personable young American female student who seeks his support in matters academic and not so academic, who finally threatens to destabilize his life completely with her unpredictable-and wayward-behavior. What emerges is a funny, moving account of one man's effort to come to terms with aging and mortality-a classic meditation on modern middle age that fans of David Lodge will love.

Editorial Reviews

Roger Rosenblatt
Sometimes, when one is plowing ahead in a novel—a very good novel, containing all that a very good novel should contain (a character to cling to, an original controlling device, a significant theme)—a single, innocent word rises from the text and clarifies what one has been feeling all along. In David Lodge's Deaf Sentence, the word is "draining." It appears casually in "a long, draining day," but therein lies the whole ebbing life of retired linguistics professor Desmond Bates. Throughout the novel, one wonders: Can his life be stopped from going down the drain?
—The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
…if Deaf Sentence lacks the uproarious academic satire found in Changing Places and Small World, it nonetheless showcases the author's ability to use sympathy and slapstick humor to create an appealingly hapless hero and to recount his adventures with Waugh-like verve. The humor is more muted here, not least because his hero is grappling with sobering matters like an ailing parent, a stale marriage and the frustrations and disappointments of advancing age, instead of the sort of career woes and sexual misalliances faced by Mr. Lodge's earlier heroes. Indeed the novel occupies a similar place in Mr. Lodge's career as Exit, Ghost does in Philip Roth's, and Villages does in John Updike's: the book is a veteran novelist's meditation on aging and death and the diminution of youthful dreams.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In British writer Lodge's (Author, Author) modest 13th fictional effort, an elderly man's hearing loss embroils him in a sticky situation with a beautiful, manipulative young woman. Sexagenarian Desmond Bates wears a hearing aid after being diagnosed some 20 years earlier with "acquired deafness" and consistently misinterprets people's words (which Lodge milks to maximum comic effect). Bates longs for activities after his retirement from teaching applied linguistics, other than contemplating e-mail spam about erectile dysfunction and watching his wife, Winifred, enjoy her success as an interior designer. The novel takes the form of his newly begun daily diary. At a gallery event, Bates mistakenly agrees to help shapely, enigmatic American student Alex Loom with her Ph.D. thesis on suicide notes. It quickly becomes clear that Loom's intentions are anything but academic and her instability shakes not only the sound foundations of Bates's family life but his long-since-stagnant fantasy life as well. Lodge's amiable, deliberate narrative tickles like a feather, but his frequent pauses for lengthy, expository grace notes may not appeal to every reader. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Desmond Bates has been going deaf for some time. Hearing aids help in some ways but make life more difficult in others. As a recently retired university linguistics professor, he still uses the library and the departmental common room regularly, but he finds retirement rather boring. His dull routine is interrupted by a request for help from an American Ph.D. candidate with a unique topic. Her persistence in seeking his help flatters and draws him in, but he is repulsed by her occasionally suggestive acts. Meanwhile, Desmond tries to convince his aging father that assisted living is an option worth considering. A surprise speaking tour in Poland, a visit to Auschwitz, and his father's unexpected stroke give Desmond a new and improved outlook on life. Lodge, the author of 12 other novels (e.g., Changing Places), uses humor and pathos to grapple with the difficulties of aging. His characters are true to life, as are the problems they meet, and the story evokes both laughter and tears. Recommended.
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

Kirkus Reviews
Another wise, witty look at the human condition from Lodge (Author, Author, 2004, etc.). Linguistics professor Desmond Bates's increasing deafness led him to take early retirement from his university in a northern English city. So now, in November 2006, he has little to do beyond visit his elderly father in London and perform the routine chores his wife Fred no longer has time for, thanks to her thriving interior-design business. Accompanying Fred to a noisy party in an art gallery, Desmond politely says yes to a question he hasn't heard from an attractive blonde. She's Alex Loom, an American getting her doctorate at his university, and at a subsequent meeting Desmond learns that she wants him to supervise her research on suicide notes. He hastily declines, but Alex isn't easily discouraged. She's also a liar and plagiarist with some pretty kinky sexual ideas. Desmond hasn't done anything wrong, really, but he's anxious to keep Alex from becoming another issue between him and Fred, who's already annoyed by his excessive drinking and his lack of enthusiasm for the socializing she enjoys. Meanwhile, his father's mental and physical health worsens, and an awkward family Christmas gathering reaches its comically awful nadir when both of Desmond's earpiece batteries go dead. Taking the offer of a British Council lecture tour in Poland, complete with a trip to Auschwitz, seems like a sensible means of getting away from his problems. Of course, his pregnant daughter gives birth and his father has a stroke while Desmond is in Poland. No summary can do justice to the artful blend of humor and poignancy with which Lodge delineates the musings of a man facing his own aging and infirmities (Desmond'svirility is almost as iffy as his hearing) as well as the impending loss of his father. Suffice it to say that the book is wonderfully funny and extremely moving as Desmond reaches new accommodations with the people he loves and finds new serenity in the face of mortality. A pleasure from first to last: Lodge gets better and goes deeper in each book.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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