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On hearing, deafness and a great novelist

I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival today, to hear one of my favourite novelists, David Lodge. He spoke mainly about his latest novel Deaf Sentence, but anyway I'd never heard him live before, and for me it's authors that bring books alive. His book explores the theme of loss of various kinds – of hearing, of his father, of youth, of retiring from employment. He skilfully exploits the comic potential of deafness via double entendre, pun and misunderstanding, acting out the premise that deafness is comic, whereas blindness is tragic.

He has hearing loss himself, but there isn't an ounce of self-pity either in his book or in his talk. With refreshing lack of political correctness, he describes himself as a "deafie". He also appreciates the point that my father demonstrated at age 95: being a writer is one of the few professions that can't forcibly make you retire. Let the market decide!

The EBF Main Theatre was packed to capacity to hear this charismatic writer read an edited version of the first couple of chapters. We all laughed a lot. In a few cases the laughter was delayed, and I realised that an unusual proportion of this audience themselves had hearing loss. The missing link was a skilful, sensitive sign language expert who somehow kept up with Lodge's dazzling stream of words. Indeed her hour-long performance was in many ways as impressive as his.

How on earth do you represent post-modernism, campus novels and linguistics (to pick three examples at random) using only hands, face and body language? And how did she manage to keep up that data rate for a full hour? Lodge is fiercely intelligent, articulate and deals in abstractions. He pulls no intellectual punches, and nor does Desmond Bates, former Professor of Linguistics and hero of his novel.

Question time was interesting: Lodge's hearing was clearly adequate to fielding questions, thanks to excellent microphones and acoustics. I had wondered if he would turn to the signer for "translation" but no, she just went on translating and it was fascinating to see how her body language independently echoed his, sometimes improving on it, although neither was watching the other. The whole event was truly captivating.

And afterward, my son Sandy took me to lunch at the Tiger Lily and I enjoyed catching up with his life a bit. He's in the process of hiring a PA to help with Experience Ecosse, his gift voucher company. Knowing how much a really good PA has helped me over the last 15 years, I deeply hope that he makes the right appointment. And having had a couple of amazing experiences thanks to his vouchers, I certainly hope that his company prospers.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 12, 2008 4:27 PM.

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