four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
David Lodge
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-Deaf SentenceLike his protagonist, British author David Lodge is retired, suffers from hearing loss, and recently lost his own father. This is his 13th novel (after Author, Author 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2005). He has been short-listed twice for the Booker Prize.

The Story: The Story: As his hearing deteriorates, linguistics professor Desmond Bates loses his ability to communicate. He retires and fills his time puttering around his house, running errands for his newly successful wife, visiting his ailing father, and drinking. A misunderstanding leads him to a meeting with Alex, a flirtatious and unbalanced graduate student who wants his help analyzing suicide notes for her thesis. She also gives him a sexually charged message. Terrified, Bates temporarily escapes this complication by accepting an invitation to lecture in Poland. While there, a trip to Auschwitz brings into focus his growing preoccupation with mortality.
Viking. 294 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0670019925

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Although] it lacks the high spirits and brilliant wit of some of this author’s earlier, more sparkling novels, it is a humane account of life as it is lived. … Deaf Sentence avoids the tragic and (mostly) the pathetic to become a quietly assured comic novel." Merritt Moseley

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Funny and touching. … Deaf Sentence is, as its punning title suggests, primarily a sustained reflection on death and life, and the mini-death that is encroaching deafness. … Lodge has always been able to wear his erudition and philosophical interests with deceptive lightness." Sylvia Brownrigg

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he book is a veteran novelist’s meditation on aging and death and the diminution of youthful dreams. … He has written a novel that not only hits the bright comic notes of his best earlier fiction but also deftly downshifts to play the darker, more minor scales as well." Michiko Kakutani

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Lodge deliberately leads us off track, for Deaf Sentence begins lightly. … Surprisingly, the promised sex farce gives way to a moving father-and-son story." Gregory Leon Miller

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] terrific new novel. … You wouldn’t think Lodge could make all of this funny, but somehow he does, with a wry wit that reveals the lighter side of Bates’ various dilemmas." Melinda Bargreen

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Lodge propels this story line along with writing that is consistently witty. … [I]t is hard not to wish that Lodge had listened to his hero’s dictum and explored the comic potential of his affliction to its bitter end." Stephen Amidon

Critical Summary

Deaf Sentence, structured mostly as Desmond Bates’s diary, marks a departure for David Lodge. Although filled with humor, the novel moves in a more poignant direction than the author’s previous work. Desmond is a sympathetic and well-drawn protagonist, but the New York Times found Alex to be "something of a cartoon." Although most critics were moved by the story’s development from a lighthearted comedy into a more serious exploration of aging and mortality, the New York Times Book Review faulted the book’s shift away from Alex (and the potential for comic disaster) and toward Desmond’s relationship with his dying father. Despite these minor criticisms, most readers should enjoy this well-written work by a veteran novelist.