Skip to content

On The Bookshelf: The Listeners is a hum-dinger of a book

'For those who enjoy a path strewn with pertinent questions there are many'
Screenshot 2021-09-03 3.31.32 PM

Jordan Tannahill is a Governor General Award winning playwright, often described as the enfant terrible of Canadian theatre. He is still under the wire though as a Canadian novelist. Let’s hope that The Listeners, his second novel, will propel him onto the arena of wider public consciousness. It’s a “humdinger.”

His anti-hero Claire carries the weight of the story. In the first few pages we learn that she is living a very middle class life and wonders how she got there. She married Paul at 22. They were both poor growing up but he dreamed of becoming rich and she of being gloriously poor. They have a daughter. Hmm, tension already. The stage is set.

One day Claire hears a very constant hum. No medical test produces a reason. It becomes progressively more disturbing, inducing sleeplessness and migraine headaches. She starts to crumble. 

She is a teacher and relief comes when she talks to one of her students when he falls behind in his work. It turns out that Kyle also hears the hum. They join forces and covertly start measuring the sound frequency emitted from various buildings and installations. Kyle’s mother complains to the school that her son is spending countless hours with his teacher. Claire is relieved of her position.

They continue their relationship discovering others who experience the hum. Claire’s emotional centre moves away from her family and toward this weird and disturbed group, many of whom are on the other side of the political crevice. Their leader is a retired geology professor. He has data about the earth’s resonant frequency and suggests that they all share a gift and should learn to appreciate it.

The hummers begin to tune into the sound together. It is in these moments of intimacy that Tannahill’s writing really sings. They are one. They experience the lofty feelings evoked by John Lennon’s Imagine.

But then their world is shattered.

For those who like a traditional narrative – it’s there and definitely drives the story onward and over the cliff. But for those who enjoy a path strewn with pertinent questions there are many.

How can we explore unused parts of our brains? What is a cult? How can we more intimately commune with nature? What is group think? What is fake news? What is a family?  What is science? What does it mean to be different?

The enfant terrible of Canadian theatre has given novel readers a lot to explore.


Barb Minett

About the Author: Barb Minett

Barb Minett is a lifelong lover of books, longtime Guelph Resident and co-founder of The Bookshelf at 42 Quebec Str.
Read more