Deaf Sentence, By David Lodge

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The Independent Culture

This tale of retired academic Desmond Bates, who is gradually going deaf, is full of the kind of minute detail about the condition that lets you know the author has had some experience of it: nobody could be quite so pernickety about the process of inserting a hearing aid unless they'd actually repeatedly had to do it themselves. As Lodge's character, a linguistic professor, points out, "deafness is comic as blindness is tragic", and there's little apparent sympathy for his plight, either from his wife or from his colleagues.

As he struggles on in a world that makes less and less sense to him, a mature female student named Alex approaches him about supervising her thesis. Bates can certainly hear the alarm bells ringing, though: he might be able to appreciate Alex's good looks, but he also knows a potential nutcase when he meets one.

The danger of the predatory female student might pale in real life alongside the predatory male professor, and have a lot more comic potential, but Lodge is good on Bates's embarrassed sidestepping of a tricky situation, and Bates's relationship with his father, even more deaf and inept than his son, is a touching one.