I am often asked to recommend books that would make good reading and discussion for book groups. Well, here’s one – Hearing Maud by Jessica White. She’s an Australian author and her book is thought-provoking and unusual.
Jessica White lost most of her hearing as a young child, and much of her book recounts her own experiences of growing up deaf and learning to fit into a world that does not always accommodate deaf people well. However, she is aware that for a 21st century deaf person, life is much easier than it was for someone in the 19th century. Interwoven with her own story is the tragic tale of Maud Praed, daughter of Queensland novelist Rosa Praed (little heard of now, but a big selling writer in her day, who knew Oscar Wilde). Maud went to London with her parents when they decided to move there, she tried to fit in at balls and parties, she learned to speak and communicate, but she suffered some sort of breakdown and about half her life was spent in an asylum. Jessica White moves back into Maud’s story, and then forwards into her own, in what is a mix of biography, memoir, and study of life as a deaf person.
If you do decide to include this book in your book club programme, here are some discussion questions to get you started:
- Did you feel that Jessica White blended her own story with that of Maud in a satisfactory way?
- Jessica writes in glowing terms of her brother, but is a bit less complimentary about her sister. How do you think her family would have reacted to her book?
- Did this book make you think about the challenges of being deaf in a new way?
- Discuss Maud’s story – did her mother do the right thing, what do you think caused her breakdown, how might life have been improved for Maud?
- Did you enjoy this book? Why/why not?
I have just finished reading The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing. Some months ago, I recommended her book To the River about the Ouse River in Sussex, in which she is walking in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf. I love Laing’s writing style – it is erudite and thought-provoking – and The Trip to Echo Spring was no exception.
Jessica White turned to writing as a way of communicating without needing to hear. Other writers have done the same – I’ve been thinking up names of authors who were deaf or very hard of hearing – Henry Lawson, Helen Keller, Judith Wright, and David Lodge (who wrote the excellent novel Deaf Sentence) are some examples. Can you add any more names to my list? Let me know by leaving a comment.