It's odd how a writer you've once enjoyed somehow slips off your radar and you forget to read them. I'm sorry to have to admit that it was 1992 when I read Paradise News by David Lodge and though I've bought others since on high recommends from friends, they've remained on the shelf.
I think it was all David Lodge's fault actually, because then in 1997 I started the studying and he'd written quite a few of the textbooks and you start to build up a bit of a love-hate thing with the authors of those as you sit at your desk at 2am.
Long day at work, long evening sorting food, washing and ironing and then GCSE and A Level course work with teenagers and then they all troop off to bed and you start to consider the 2500 word essay you've got to conjure up out of the darkness.
You mine the professorial words for quotes to get you out of trouble.
Lodge argues that...Lodge states that... and suddenly you find yourself talking to them...well do you indeed David...are you quite sure about that David? Then you find a brilliant quote that you absolutely have to use and in desperation you try and make the whole thing fit around it and it won't so you give up and go to bed.
So not my fault at all which is good, and when Anne at Bookends in Fowey told me she was sponsoring the David Lodge event at the du Maurier Festival this year, suddenly I remembered. We had a little exchange about his books and I drove home to make a start on the novel David Lodge will speak about, Deaf Sentence. If you're in London then lucky you because you can hear David Lodge speak about the book here .
Professor of Linguistics, Desmond Bates has taken early retirement in the wake of university departmental restructuring whilst his second wife, Winifred (known as Fred) throws herself into her late-flowering career success with her interior design shop.The equilibrium is further tipped off-centre as Desmond struggles with his increasing deafness.
Slowly and inexorably Desmond becomes the Victor Meldrew of his ever-narrowing world as he wades into gladiatorial combat with anything and everything in his path. Nothing is safe from the critical attentions of Desmond as he tries in vain to fill his empty days. From the use of highlighter pen in university textbooks to his hearing aid batteries, from Christmas to a stay at a holiday complex called Gladeworld, the benevolent concentration camp and it's all wry and very funny. Rumbling along ever more silent underneath are Desmond's rapidly failing cilia, those tiny hairs lining the cochlea in the inner ear, the little power houses of the hearing process.
Once they've laid down and died, they've laid down and died.
Though David Lodge treats the subject with a wry eye there is an underlying seriousness to his message; deafness is in many ways a disability of age which is open to much ridicule in a way that blindness never would be.
Seamlessly the all-pervading theme of deafness must fade into a manageable perspective for Desmond and there is a notable shift in emphasis as the book reaches its conclusion. Serious life-events take over and it could be argued that Lodge (sorry, just had to sneak it in, reminds me of the old days) is then writing something of a treatise on ageing, suffering and death and an acceptance of fate.
This is a quality read, David Lodge's writing has an immediacy to it with an eye completely tuned into life's foibles, I also get the feeling he used this book to get every single grumble off his chest and I loved it. Buried in amongst it all I sensed a finely crafted pearl of wisdom about making the best of what life throws at you because you are a very long time dead and there are some nasty ways to go.
A quote from the journal of Bruce Cummings a naturalist seemed to express the sentiment,
'To me the honour is sufficient of belonging to the universe -such a great universe and so great a scheme of things. Not even death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time...'
and I'd love to share the rest of that quote but I'm not going to, because the impact of the whole passage in the context of the book is one that made my heart jump and skip a beat as the truth dawned... except, all right, here's the last sentence,
'Death can do no more than kill you.'
I like that, and when I'd read the whole paragraph I stopped and read it over and over again, even underlined it.
I was thinking I'd take my copy of Deaf Sentence along for David Lodge to sign whilst he's in Fowey, but I think he'll suffer fifty professorial fits when he sees all the writing in it, so I might not.