The Hearing Test: A Novel (Hardcover)

The Hearing Test: A Novel By Eliza Barry Callahan Cover Image

The Hearing Test: A Novel (Hardcover)

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A young woman reorients her relationship to the world in the wake of sudden deafness in this mesmerizing debut novel for readers of Rachel Cusk, Clarice Lispector, and Fleur Jaeggy

When the narrator of The Hearing Test, an artist in her late twenties, awakens one morning to a deep drone in her right ear, she is diagnosed with Sudden Deafness, but is offered no explanation for its cause. As the specter of total deafness looms, she keeps a record of her year—a score of estrangement and enchantment, of luck and loneliness, of the chance occurrences to which she becomes attuned—while living alone in a New York City studio apartment with her dog.

Through a series of fleeting and often humorous encounters—with neighbors, an ex-lover, doctors, strangers, family members, faraway friends, and with the lives and works of artists, filmmakers, musicians, and philosophers—making meaning  becomes a form of consolation and curiosity, a form of survival. 

At once a rumination on silence and a novel on seeing, The Hearing Test is a work of vitalizing intellect and playfulness which marks the arrival of a major new literary writer with a rare command of form, compression, and intent.
Eliza Barry Callahan is a writer, filmmaker, and musician from New York, NY. Her work has appeared in BOMB, frieze, The Drift and elsewhere. She co-wrote the short film BUST which premiered at Sundance in 2024. She is a New York Foundation for The Arts Fellow and she teaches at Columbia University. The Hearing Test is her first novel.
Product Details ISBN: 9781646222131
ISBN-10: 164622213X
Publisher: Catapult
Publication Date: March 5th, 2024
Pages: 176
Language: English
A Dakota Johnson x TeaTime Book Club Pick
Nylon, A Must-Read Book of the Month
Bookshop, A Most Anticipated Title of the Year
Goodreads, A Most Anticipated Debut
The Millions, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year


"Over the course of a year in New York City, an artist goes deaf. She records her life as her hearing slips away, reflecting on silence, art, and record-keeping itself in this meditative novel." —The New York Times Book Review

"Smart and slim . . . A medical book that doesn’t feel like a medical book." —Lauren Mechling, The Guardian

"In a way that echoes [Rachel] Cusk’s writing, Eliza’s descriptions and judgments about her surroundings throw her inner life into relief: they seem designed to direct attention to how her mind moves. Callahan also shares Cusk’s flair for seeding strange and piquant details into the speech of her narrator’s interlocutors . . . Heartbreak and hearing loss are either symbols for each other or paired expressions of something deeper: a fundamental out-of-tune-ness that is beguilingly present in Callahan’s style . . . [B]reathtakingly crafted." —Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

"Both meditative and deliciously funny . . . masterfully-observed." —Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair

"Pitch-perfect . . . Callahan handles humor with a lightness of touch, both in form (at 176 pages, the book is slight) and sensibility (the prose is enviably precise), that good comic timing has. Think of Charlie Chaplin walking off into the distance, brokenhearted and twirling his cane . . . Callahan creates something bigger than a simple story of individual trauma—by relinquishing an easy sense of exceptionalism, Callahan achieves something here that you might call grace." —Hannah Regel, Jacobin

"Callahan uses the narrator’s sudden deafness—and the questions that abound from such a radical transformation in how she engages with the sensory world—to claw at the underbelly of experience, to investigate conscious life at the most basic of units . . . There’s consistent humor, little bursts of observational wit . . . [and] transcendentally lucid prose." —Stuart Beal, Columbia Spectator

"This is a deeply moving meditation on life and loss—a stunning debut." —Yvonne C. Garrett, The Brooklyn Rail

"In dreamlike, state-of-consciousness free-flowing prose, Eliza Barry Callahan’s debut novel is unpredictable, warm, and artistic." —Sam Franzini, Our Culture Mag

"The Hearing Test is a gift. It touches on many forms of art—visual art, dance, music, literature—and those who create it. It explores the ways in which relationships—parental, romantic, sexual, platonic—change according to time and circumstances. And it traces how sometimes not having all the answers can lead to journeys of greater understanding, by way of some surprising meanderings." —Norah Piehl, Bookreporter

"Callahan debuts a magnificent stream-of-consciousness narrative portraying a young New York City artist as her hearing deteriorates . . . A bracing immersion into the world of the senses." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] quietly electrifying debut . . . This is a special novel with a style reminiscent of Magda Szabó’s The Door and whose commitment to making sense of everyday existence calls to mind Tom McCarthy’s Remainder." —Booklist (starred review)

"[W]hirling perambulations between memory, present-day interactions, and reflections on the historic creates the sense that this is not solely another navel-gazing missive but rather a woman asserting that there is value and artistry to be found in a thoroughly examined life . . . Callahan’s deft hand, bobbing and weaving down these many avenues of thought, suggests a promising confidence from a writer just getting started." —Nina Moses, The Rumpus

"A writer of unusual talents and profound preoccupations: a literary newcomer to watch." —Kirkus Reviews

“In this striking novel, ‘controlled panic’ gives way to a cool remove when a young artist suddenly goes deaf. Silence, for her, 'is dressed as an injury,' but it is also the point of entry into the lives of other creators, and philosophers. Elegant and startling, The Hearing Test is a contemplative gem.” —Amy Hempel, author of Sing to It

"Not for a while have I read a book by a writer new to me, and felt so much toward it so fast. The Hearing Test takes up fragility, sound and silence, solitude, the unknown, and the self in relation to others with a light, yet serious touch. I've found a new favorite." —Amina Cain, author of Indelicacy

“A young woman’s sudden hearing loss initiates and propels The Hearing Test. But affliction is also a catalyst for the many irresistible twists and digressions that make this novel of dérive so compelling. Callahan never explains; with steely reserve she observes and chronicles, makes ingenious, delirious connections and transitions, and takes us on a journey through her cultural mindscape of artists, writers, cinema and music, offering it up with muted irony and a limpid grace. The Hearing Test is ecstatic prose.” —Moyra Davey, author of Index Cards

"Eerie and tender and utterly consuming, The Hearing Test has built an entirely new world from the materials of the one we know. It takes you to a restaurant called the void, Il Vuoto, and serves you its primal, beguiling sustenance: a nourishment of pauses, estrangement, and bewilderment. The voice here is wise and wry and wondering; in its fresh and faltering silences are frequencies I’ve never heard before. From the first paragraph, I knew I wanted to keep reading Eliza Barry Callahan forever." —Leslie Jamison, author of Splinters and The Empathy Exams

"A composer suffering from sudden hearing loss finds herself even more sensitive to the lives of others, observing neighbors and the absurdities of the city, always punctuated by art and literary gossip. This debut work by Eliza Callahan is an extraordinary piece of literature, to be read alongside the novels of W.G. Sebald, Rachel Cusk, and Maria Gainza." —Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts