I finished this novel just this afternoon, and given that a large part of it is devoted to conveying the devastation of WWI, it seemed an appropriate day to read and remember. Charles Frazier has a blurb on the back cover of the book, and I will borrow his words, since I could not do better myself. He writes that “Itani’s writing is clear-headed and sure-handed; her characters will not leave you”. The accuracy of his description struck me since there is indeed a competence and a clarity and an eloquence to Itani’s writing that is neither too sparse nor too overwrought. She is lyrical without being contrived, emotional without being overly sentimental, and clear without sounding too clinical. The result is really forceful prose that is all the more powerful for its believability.
The plot centres around a young deaf women named Grania, following her through her childhood, her education at a school for the deaf in Belleville, and her relationship and marriage to a hearing man named Jim. When he departs to serve in the war, the story splits and follows each of their lives as they struggle through the unanticipated ferocity and magnitude of the first world war. The metaphor of silence that the novel develops is a simple but useful one: Grania struggles to negotiate the silence and solitude of her world even while Jim must come to terms with the many voices silenced by the brutality and chaos of war. So too the title, Deafening, references the fine balance between sound and silence and the forces that -either permanently or momentarily - impose silence and leave loss, chaos, and isolation in their wake. Itani’s descriptions of the war are viscerally powerful, and they foreground the physical and mental scars the first world war inflicted on the bodies and psyches of soldiers, families, and nations.
The novel balances these tales of devastation with the love story between Jim and Grania, a story filled with hope and healing, and one that is a testament to the power of communication and potential of human connection.