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The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss

This debut novel deals with the aftermath of a sudden and life-changing diagnosis

Eliza Barry Callahan’s The Hearing Test is a slim book, but no less exquisite for its brevity. This novel concerns an audio artist (also named Eliza) recording the effects of her sudden, late deafness, through a year-long set of observations, digressions and diagnoses. These circle around the unordinary shift in her perception of the outer world and its absurd contents – in both wonder and dismay. 

Eliza’s meditations border on the dissociative, as she seeks feeling and place within a hazy existence, clad in noise-cancelling headphones. This narrator becomes a flaneur of sound and silence; steeped in a sonic landscape that harrows her ears with its abrasions. As Eliza receives treatment and cannot work, her debt accrues. She often retreats to the space of her New York City apartment, gazing out the window to find her neighbours shagging Mormon-style. 

Though introspection is the house in which she sits, her conversations with both strangers and intimates are documented with droll appreciation. Callahan’s superb book has already bled into my dreaming. Her narrative is a peephole, offering glimpses of such shimmering life.

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan is out now (Peninsula Press, £10.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!
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