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A Word Child by Iris Murdoch

A Word Child (1975)

by Iris Murdoch

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432524,401 (3.86)1 / 31



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Hilary Burde is the word child of the title. In school, the only thing he did really well in was languages. He excelled at words, but not in using them creatively; his interest was in learning how they worked together; the grammar, not the poetry. An abused orphan, his plan was to get a position at Oxford- which he did- and bring his sister, Crystal, to come live with him and be educated by him. But an ill-advised love affair with a married woman results in a tragedy and he finds himself working at a dead end government job, his sister supporting herself as a seamstress. He has a girlfriend, Tommy, who he treats horribly, and a few friends who tolerate him. It seems he has found his niche- or, rather, his rut- and will go on this way. Until the wronged husband of his ill-advised love affair comes to work as a higher up at the office he works at. How will he deal with this? Will he do the right thing this time around?

Burde is a thoroughly unlikable character. He’s weak, he’s narcissistic, he expects the women in his life to just orbit quietly around him until he has use for them. He has no ambition and no longer any dreams. Basically, he contributes little or nothing to the world. Despite this, Murdoch as managed to make the novel one I could not stop reading. I have to admit it was rather like watching a slow motion car crash, one where you wonder how many others he will take down with him this time.

Thankfully, the supporting cast members are more likable than Burde- well, most of them are. His office mates are pretty strange. All the supporting characters show themselves, ultimately, to have a lot more to themselves than Burde assumes- they have life, love, and volition beyond their association with him. A very good book all round, if you can take a main character who is a d**s***. ( )
  dark_phoenix54 | Nov 26, 2015 |
This is a bit like a cross between Dostoevsky and Diary of a nobody: Hilary is a tragic protagonist, damaged by his loveless childhood and doomed to deal with everything that happens in his life in precisely the way that will hurt him and those around him most, but he's also a Pooterish figure who has only the faintest inkling of how funny much of what happens around him really is. Murdoch delivers his story with consummate skill, so that we never quite get to the point of being led to laugh at him in a nasty way for the things he can't help, but we are always left uncomfortably aware of how close we are to the line. Very nicely done: top-of-the-range mid-period Murdoch. ( )
  thorold | Oct 19, 2012 |
My favorite by by Ms. Murdoch, a great place to start, very darkly funny, also about mad love. The ‘word child’ of the title is Hilary Burde, our narrator. The book has an interesting structure, with each chapter headed by a day of the week. Hilary has tried to establish order and routine in his life by having certain things that he always does on certain days of the week and the novel follows him as this routine is gradually upended. ( )
  jwhenderson | Sep 9, 2012 |
This is definitely my favourite of the Iris Murdoch book that I have so far read for the Murdoch a month challenge. The characters are fascinating complex beings, the story so finely plotted and yet it is a very readable Murdoch, a page turner. I loved the descriptions on London in this one, London is a feature of IM's work, but with this novel there were a lot of references to places I knew in London (I go there very seldom.)I also enjoyed Hilary's "Office life" - with the bickering and gossip and desk moving. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Nov 22, 2009 |
London lovers will just love this tragical-humorous tale. The cityscape is the stage of a passionate clash with the past for civil servant Hilary. ( )
  verak | May 14, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140081534, Paperback)

After years of obscurity in a Bayswater flat, Oxford graduate Hilary Burde ha the opportunity to atone for a grievous offense which he committed twenty ye earlier.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:38 -0400)

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