the guardian Fri 12 June 2009
If blindness is tragic, then deafness is invariably comic. To prove the point David Lodge transmutes Milton's great cry of anguish, "O dark, dark, dark without all hope of day", into "O deaf, deaf, deaf, without all hope of sound". Doesn't have quite the same ring, does it? Lodge's novel is a hilarious account of a retired linguistics professor suffering the far-from-funny affliction of hearing loss. Desmond ruefully reflects that he's condemned to appear "a dud at every dinner table, a damper on every party", though this becomes the least of his worries when a misheard conversation draws him into the orbit of Alex, a flaky, attractive female post-graduate. Lodge doesn't exactly stint on the potential for puns: "Am I half in love with easeful deaf?" Desmond wonders, while his fellow members of a lip-reading class inevitably become known as Deaf Row. But the characterisation of Alex is masterly: a seductive, insecure fantasist who expresses a desire to be spanked. Mild-mannered Desmond is tempted, but desists. Oh deaf, where is thy sting?