REVIEW

Impossible Music by Sean Williams is about a teenage musician who becomes deaf.

Author Sean Williams. Picture: Scott Westfield

Author Sean Williams. Picture: Scott Westfield

One morning, teenager Simon Rain wakes up - and can't hear anything.

It turns out he had a stroke that caused an extremely rare condition called cortical deafness: there's no apparent damage to his ears but his hearing is gone.

This would be devastating for anyone, but Simon is shattered: music is his life.

He had played in a band, listened to all kinds of music ( heavy metal was a particular passion) and wanted to study music at university.

Simon, angry and distraught, can't accept what's happened and refuses to attend counselling or learn Auslan.

There's a difference between deaf and Deaf.

The latter is identifying with the deaf community and he's not willing to do that, holding onto shreds of hope that his condition might be fixed.

The first-person narration follows Simon's life after the stroke, detailing his frustration and pain and his relationships with people, including his divorced parents, his sister and his friends.

When he meets George, or "G", who suffers from severe tinnitus, it's a potential bright point.

She's sassy and they are attracted to each other - but she has her own demons.

Simon's mother, with whom he and his sister live, encourages him to find another career that's more achievable than music.

But he's stubborn and unwilling to give up on his dream.

He eventually develops his own plans and systems for "impossible music", inspired in part by John Cage's composition 4'33'' (where the musicians don't play and the sounds in the environment are the music).

It's a deeply felt book and it's not surprising that Sean Williams - better known for science fiction - says in an afterword it's his most autobiographical to date.

Like Simon, he had a passion for music (as well as writing).

In his case, depression and anxiety stemmed from chronic arm and neck pain.

There's quite a lot of medical terminology and explanation which makes sense, since Simon is learning about his condition along with the reader, but it doesn't become overwhelming or too technical.

Simon is an appealing character in a well-evoked world and is obviously highly intelligent.

Occasionally, though, his voice seems just a little too preternaturally sophisticated.

The frequent flashes of humour are welcome and help keep the book from becoming too heavy.

Impossible Music is a moving story for older teenagers about pain, frustration and eventually, hope and acceptance.

This story Journey of a youth who suddenly becomes deaf, and loses his music first appeared on The Canberra Times.