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The Shape of Sound

The Shape of Sound
Fiona Murphy
Text Publishing
$34.99

Sound is everywhere. It flows through our lives, as we wake, sleep, move and dream. As hearing people, most of us never notice its ubiquitous presence. Sound can be menacing, enveloping, receptive or alarming, but it is never neutral and true silence is rare.

In her memoir, The Shape of Sound, Fiona Murphy recounts her relationship with her hearing and, by extension, her identity as a hearing person and, later, as a Deaf person. Murphy organises her memoir around the technical descriptions of the lifespan of a sound – attack, decay, sustain and release – and through this process shows us how she comes to terms with herself as a Deaf person and also how our society fails to accommodate those who are hearing impaired.

Murphy’s beautiful memoir records the human body as a “disjointed poem of mixed metaphors and similes”. Her engagement with her body and the way that it is accommodated throughout her life bring her increasing levels of anxiety and frustration until she allows herself to accept her Deafness. She channels her understanding of herself partially through her studies as a physiotherapist and the bodily awareness this grants her, and also through running and learning Auslan, as her forays into Deaf culture become more assured.

Beginning from her earliest memories, Murphy’s problems with her hearing shaped her identity. The discovery of being profoundly deaf in one ear affected her engagement with her education. Her subsequent efforts to conceal her hearing impairment affected her relationships with others, her employment, and her sense of self.

It is only when her hearing in her other ear begins to be affected by tinnitus and otosclerosis (the hardening of the bones in the ear that resulted in Beethoven’s deafness) that Murphy recognises the radical reframing that occurs with Deaf Gain, rather than hearing loss.

The Shape of Sound encourages all readers to consider the ways in which the world embodies belonging, what types of bodies are fully enfranchised and how we can develop our awareness of difference.

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books@ssh.com.au

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