Fiona Murphy focuses her lyrical memoir, The Shape of Sound, on her experience with hearing and deafness. We follow her memories of childhood up until the present. So, we learn about her ongoing denial of being deaf in one ear. She analyzes how and why she hid her partial deafness through her teens and most of her twenties. And ultimately, Murphy discusses how she reached acceptance and what it meant to her. Through it all, she explores insights about music, silence, and sound.

Murphy discusses what influences our perception of hearing, whether science, medicine, or society. Societal influences biased the scientific study of hearing loss over time. And generally, the public doesn’t understand either how common hearing loss is or how best to support those with hearing loss. And in Murphy’s experience, medical professionals including audiologists, aren’t much better.

While Murphy spends most of the book sorting out multiple frustrations regarding her hearing, her perspectives are engaging and generally positive. This could be a collection of whining essays, but they aren’t. They are introspective, emotional, and investigative. She approaches every essay with her heart wide open, yet still uses analytical skills to expose her deepest feelings on the page.

My conclusions

The Shape of Sound is delightful, even as Murphy struggles to find her sense of self. Our twenties are a typical time for this, but she’s got the added complications of hearing versus deafness. And it’s the whole package of these things that makes this memoir an engaging book.

Murphy is also trained as a physiotherapist, a professional not dissimilar from my own massage therapy background. She uses her applies her professional skills of physical and scientific analysis to her own situation. This combination also further endeared her to me.

I learned many new things about sign language, including why it varies from country to country. Murphy explores Auslan, the Australian version of sign language, and also explains her learning process. She takes classes, hires a tutor, joins a meet-up group, and watches online videos. Each of those serves a different purpose, and I appreciated understanding more about the process.

As a hard-of-hearing person, this book also touched me emotionally. It gave me hope for the future, as my own hearing continues to decline. Murphy continually advocates for herself, which is a skill every patient with chronic illness and/or disability does. It’s encouraging to see someone moving through a process even a little bit similar to my own.

I recommend The Shape of Sound if you live with hearing loss or deafness, or if someone you know does. It’s a memoir that melds together various journeys, from medical to emotional to practical aspects of being partially deaf.

Pair with Fierce and Delicate: Essays on Dance and Illness by Renée K. Nicholson, another terrific memoir of a young woman finding her way through disability and life purpose.


Many thanks to NetGalley, Text Publishing, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. Available April 12, 2022, in the United States.