The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan - review by Molly Pepper Steemson

Molly Pepper Steemson

Silent Witness

The Hearing Test


Peninsula Press 162pp £10.99

The Hearing Test is narrated by Eliza, a young artist and composer living alone in New York, who partially loses, then regains, her hearing. These are also the circumstances in which it was written. Eliza Barry Callahan’s first book could be read as a memoir, a meditation on loss, art, sexuality and silence, or a novel on the same. It also acts as a catalogue of references, a directory of cool: Eliza frequently tells us that a person, place or thing made her think of Bresson, or Barthes, or Lispector, or The Story of Adèle H, or Celan, or Herzog. 

All of these citations add to the claustrophobia of Callahan’s prose. We see the same numbers, dates, colours and animals over and over again. Her writing rings with signs and symbols (Nabokov is an influence; the text is littered with Lolita-style lists), but it is unclear whether conscientiousness or condescension

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