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  • Louise Colechin

‘Sound: Stories of Hearing Lost and Found’, Bella Bathurst - Reviewed

This book fascinated me and opened my eyes to a whole new community, and the challenges they face, along with the surges of grief and beautiful realisations that come with a life without sound. Bella Bathurst draws on her experience of losing her hearing and what she learnt along the way, including the science behind its deterioration, later found to be caused by otosclerosis. She explores the history of hearing and the management of hearing loss throughout time, as well as throwing in one or two mind-blowing facts. Did you know that, unlike humans, birds can regrow the hairs deep within their ears - which means that they can never go deaf?

I chose to read this book for two reasons. Firstly, I am a second-year speech and language therapy student and thought it wise to broaden my knowledge on the experiences of those who communicate differently to myself. Moving forward in my studies, this will enable me to work with a range of people and understand, to an extent, the effect their communication needs are having on their life. Secondly, having experienced deafness first-hand, it has always been a fascination that I can never quite shake: how does one live a life without sound?

Bathurst brings up issues that a person able to hear would never even think of. She reflects on a time when, due to her inability to hear a friend’s commands, she nearly sent their boat crashing into the rocks. As she was ashamed of her hearing, her friend was not aware of the challenge she had been facing and was confused as to how the dangerous situation came to be. Bathurst explains how she was ‘angry with [her] ears for being unable to hear’, especially as she was only in her 20s.

Bathurst also goes into detail on the structure of the ear and how ‘the bit of the ear that we can actually see is the doorway to a line of secret chambers tucked into the skull’. Her descriptive, almost poetic view on the science behind deafness made this read even more captivating. She went on to describe times when she would listen to music and it would be like hearing its skeleton, but without the guts, as though the ‘emotional jolt’ had been removed. She covers the debate surrounding whether it would be worse to lose your sight or your hearing, and she sums it up perfectly: ‘sight gives you the world, but hearing gives you other people’. Without sound, you are removed from the route through humanity.

An interesting concept that Bathurst brought up was the controversial opinions of ‘deaf wannabes’. There appears to be a whole world of people whose main goal in life is to either pass as deaf or deafen themselves! There are several reasons for having this belief, some more justifiable than others. For example, many people on the autistic spectrum find noise and sociability so exhausting that they’d rather be deaf to have more control over their communication space. This fascinated me, along with the people described by Bathurst to have body dysmorphia and, like those who are transgender, feel like they are a deaf person in a hearing body. On the other hand, Bathurst expressed her horror over the small group of people that she found on the internet that had a fetish for deafness and hearing aids.

As much as this book focused on making the most of a challenging situation and accepting as much support as possible, it was upsetting to hear many accounts where this was not the case. Bathurst recounts the story of a young girl, Jenny, born deaf to hearing parents. When Jenny was born, her parents assumed that her lack of communication was a psychological problem and they refused to get her hearing tested for a very long time. After finally getting a diagnosis, her parents still chose to treat her as anything other than a hearing child. They attempted to teach her to speak by shouting at her and, when Jenny struggled to articulate, they would get frustrated at her. They also decided to not have any other children due to their fear of having another ‘faulty child’. When she turned eighteen, her other deaf friends were astonished to discover that she had managed so far with just lip-reading, as many of them had learned British Sign Language (BSL) as children. When visiting home, Jenny has always said to her parents that she now prefers to live as a deaf person - rather than a deaf person struggling to conform to a hearing world. Her parents still believe that she is just being awkward.

Later in Bathurst’s life, she was offered a life-changing operation in France to restore her hearing. Although there were risks, she flew over to have the operation and, with a few hiccups along the way, she managed to get some of her hearing back. This operation is only suitable for those with otosclerosis, and Bathurst expressed how sad it made her that others would not get to experience what she had. Nevertheless, Bathurst will always remember the ten years she had without sound and, although she will never hear things the same way again, hearing the birds in the morning is enough for her.

1 Comment

Dec 21, 2023

Such an overlooked yet extremely important topic you’ve discussed here. I think many people forget how much of a privilege it is to hear and don’t understand the unappreciated beauty of sound. Really enjoyed reading your review and I am very tempted to read it myself :)

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