Review by Tess Tabak
In Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found, Bella Bathurst explores what is lost besides sound when we go deaf late in life. A journalistic curiosity coupled with personal experience make this a nuanced look at hearing across a wide range of subjects. She covers not just deafness and the way society treats the deaf, but a look at the mechanics and meaning of sound itself.
Bathurst was working as a journalist when she began to lose her hearing. She noticed that her interview skills suffered when she couldn’t hear subjects as clearly. Worse, she began to isolate herself from friends, unwilling to go out to noisy clubs or restaurants where she’d spend the night struggling to understand a few words. She writes heartbreakingly about her own depression: “I also made the discovery that there’s more than one way to kill yourself. There’s the active way, where you go out to seek death. […] Or there’s the passive way, where you just stand there on the threshold holding the door open.” (117).
However, miraculously, Bathurst regained her hearing after 12 years. Her experience as someone on both sides of hearing loss give her a unique perspective on the subject. Being able to hear again after over a decade of deafness made her appreciate sound.
She is careful to separate those with later-life onset hearing loss from those born Deaf or deafened in early childhood. The major difference is that the Deaf have built themselves a community with a shared language. Adults who become deaf, even if they learn sign language, have no one to speak it back to. She notes high levels of depression and isolation among those with hearing loss.
At 200 pages, this book doesn’t outstay its welcome. In a short space, Bathurst covers sound and deafness from seemingly every angle. She takes the reader through acoustics, deafeningly loud workplaces, and music. Her chapter on rock and roll features an extensive interview with Giles Martin, son of George Martin, the ‘Fifth Beatle.’ Giles talks with incredible candor about how his father continued to work as a record producer for years after going deaf.
This book offers far more than just a textbook understanding of sound. She takes you physically to locations: an acoustics lab, a noisy shipbuilding yard. Even when discussing historical figures, she weaves in her own experience to make it more relatable. In a chapter about Beethoven, she writes “Almost two centuries later, I seemed to be playing a similar tune. Even if I couldn’t follow the magnitude of his loss I could certainly recognise many of Beethoven’s reactions, and those of others to him.” Many of you probably know that Beethoven was deaf, but Bathurst brings living, breathing color to what that deafness meant, and what became of Beethoven after he was deafened.
Though billed as a memoir, this book isn’t quite that. Bathurst’s own story is told in a somewhat disjointed way – the book is more organized by topic, with her story weaving in as it relates. However, anyone curious about sound will enjoy this book.
Originally published in the UK, Greystone Books is publishing the first North American edition of this book.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.