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A Word Child (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Iris Murdoch
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

4 April 2002 Vintage Classics

Saved from a delinquent childhood by education, cheated out of Oxford by a tragic love tangle, Hilary Burde cherishes his obsessive guilt and ekes out a living in a dull civil service job.

When the man whom he has harmed and betrayed reappears as head of his department, Hilary hopes for forgiveness, even for redemption and a new life, but finds himself haunted by a ghostly repetition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (4 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099429128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099429128
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Deeply moving and entertaining" (New York Times)

"The readability of a novel like A Word Child is almost appallingly powerful" (Independent)

"It would be difficult to speak too highly of the extraordinary skill and confidence here displayed" (Frank Kermode)

"From the beginning of her career, Iris Murdoch seemed to enlarge the possibilities in front of the English novel. She was a writer of wonderful, and sometimes rather alarming idiosyncrasy... Hers was a liberating and a generous imagination" (Independent)

Book Description

Iris Murdoch conjures a murky London setting for a story of a brilliant and flawed man hoping for redemption

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Murdoch 6 Feb 2004
By A Customer
This is by far my favourite in the Murdoch ouevre. A love story that is refreshing in its originality and highly entertaining. Hilary Burde, an Oxford educated civil servant leads a chameleon life in London, visiting different friends on different evenings according to a strict timetable. A figure of fun to his colleagues and married friends, a gallant knight to his sister, an irritating yet compelling friend to an associate, Hilary acts out these (self)imposed roles to varying degrees of success. It is not until he meets his nemesis, Gunter and Lady Kitty that he really begins to live. This novel perhaps has more 'plot' than many of Murdoch's other works, taking many twists and turns, but still contains many of her brilliant observations on the human condition and human nature and above all Love. It is here that we find the belief that is central to Murdoch's philosophy, that it is only through the experience of Love (and not carnal love) that we can truly claim to have lived. Anything that is a substitute simply will not do- it becomes nothing more than 'endless cups of tea', as Hilary writes to his fiancee. Yet the pervailing presence of this potentially saving love is overshadowed by the sinister image of Peter Pan in Kensignton gardens around which much of the action is played out. Such a contrast of optimism and resignation is central to the novel and each of these very different moods make deep connections with the reader.The end of the book fails it a little. It is tempting to call it meta tragic yet it carries with it an air of inevitability, managing to retain its comic elements and failing to destroy the new found optimism in the book.
I reccommend this novel to all Murdoch fans and to those who are new to her work. Although typical of her style it is less 'heavy' than many of her other works, treating philosophy and religion with a lighter hand and concentrating on the more accessibe arena of human nature. Please read it!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once bitten twice shy? 4 April 2006
By Room For A View VINE VOICE
Apart from being a brilliant story teller Iris has a remarkable talent for observing the complexities (and contradictions) of human nature and conveying her philosophical views in a subtle and entertaining manner. In A Word Child the central character, Hilary Burde, is a middle aged low ranking civil servant wrapt up in a cycle of fixed social interactions and immersed in a possessive relationship with his meekly good natured half sister Crystal. He is morose, cynical and victimised. As a consequence of an event that put an abrupt end to a promising academic career his life has been tormented by twenty years of self imposed guilt and self-loathing. However his history comes back to taunt him, resurrecting the ghosts of the past and hurling him (for the second time in his life) into a vortex of uncontrollable passion. The subsequent sequence of events is mesmerising, all the key characters coalescing into a mass of misunderstandings, misdirected benevolence and deception. And all this glorious action is set against vivid descriptions of the London Underground, work and social hierarchies, Peter Pan and the English winter. You don't just read this novel you smell and taste it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favourite Murdoch 23 Aug 2009
I first read some of Iris Murdoch's books as set texts when I was at university. She was ,and I suppose still is, much admired by our lecturers.I must admit I wasn't very fond of the books we had to read (like the first set one 'the bell')but however I still wanted to read more and quite by chance, in a bookshop more than 20 years ago, I picked 'a word child'.This is the one I have always loved and admired above all others and probably for all the wrong reasons, namely that the story is very interesting, with a little of a thriller element in it, the characters touching, complex and funny, the plot easy to follow.... Well all in all it wasn't exactly a typical , intellectual, high-brow Murdoch but a very accessible one.
Hilary, highly intelligent,flawed and a complete control freak, wastes his talent as a mediocre civil servant. His work colleagues make fun of him (I really enjoyed the exchanges he has with them)and his few friends have access to him on set days of the week. He has a sister whom he cherishes but whose life is made rather miserable by the fact that it has to be led according to his rules and a subordinate he despises who is in love with her and too much in awe of Hilary to ever hope to deserve her one day.Hilary 's highly ordered life is put in jeopardy one day when he learns a former acquaintance and a man he has wronged ,Gunther, is to become his boss. Hilary would rather flee than have to face him but Gunther's second wife lady Kitty has other plans. She would prefer that the two of them should be able to get reconciled and to get on with their lives... But her interfering will have tragic consequences for all of them.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good story, shame about the formatting 4 Oct 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The story is excellent, as one would expect from so august a writer, but the production of the ebook is a different matter. This Kindle edition is poorly formatted and full of misprints as well as misplaced apostrophes and full stops. These things would not be tolerated in a printed book; they are no more acceptable in an electronic edition for which good money has been paid. Purchasers have a right to expect at the very least a properly formatted and competently edited product.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Reason for purchasing:
Since being nudged toward Iris Murdoch last year, I downloaded a Kindle sample of all her novels, and a word child was the next one I was enraptured by, although, not by the uninspiring cover.

London, England sometime in the mid nineteen seventies.

For Hilary Burde there is never a dull moment, even though he compartmentalises everything he does at home, at work, in his unsocial social life. Routine numbs the pain; makes him stop thinking. Unfortunately it does not for he is a word child, an Oxford don, whose intelligence, whose manners, whose bearing, whose situation in society is hundreds of miles away from his humble northern beginnings even though he lives in squalor in a two bedroom flat.

Hilary Burde is another one of Iris Murdoch's masterclasses, not in her esteemed subject of psychology but in character creation. How she makes us empathise with Hilary - a most disagreeable middle-aged man who ekes out a living in the dungeons of the Civil Service - is testament to her literary skills. If only Hilary could use his affinity with words in the same manner his creator does, he would not be such an abject failure suffering some form of hereditary self-loathing that psychologists today would love to get to the bottom of. Page by page (in an excellently paced plot controlled by daily chapters), we get to the root cause of Hilary's problems, which are so tightly interwoven with the threads of his life that if one tugs too hard... well, the tapestry of his life does come tumbling down when he is reintroduced to a former Oxford don Gunnar Jopling.
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