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4.2 out of 5 stars
A Word Child (Vintage Classics)
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

on 20 August 2016
The 'word child' of the Story (and the protagonist, Hilary) is about 10 years old when he is first introduced to us. He 'survives' (one hardly dare say 'lives') in an orphanage. His 3-year old younger sister Chrystal is looked after by his aunt (the sister of their dead mother). He is in the orphaage because his aunt couldn't or wouldn't cope with him, describing him as a 'bad boy'; and there he remained until fortunately a language teacher at his secondary school discovered he had a talent for words and sentence structure. Building upon this his teacher opened his eyes to the world of languages and learning and, after School, a Scholarship at Oxford, where he eventually gets a fellowship. He has not forgotten Chrystal however who is overjoyed when he graduates.

Tragically however he is obliged to give up Oxford and when the story opens he is living in South West/Central London and earns his living as a low grade Clerical Officer in the Civil Service (in Westminster).

I won't describe anything of the plot but having graduated at Imperial College I was very familiar with the localities described, Hyde Park, the Serpentine, and the statue of Peter Pan. I see that the book refers to the Inner Circle line whereas I understand that now it is just called the Circle Line. Indeed I can still recall travelling the entire length and more of the Circle so that I could finish preparing a lecture! Incidentally the name 'Inner Circle' now refers to a dating agency!

As for the story itself you will have to buy the book.
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on 9 February 2014
Once again Iris Murdoch presents a most unlikeable character in Hilary Burde and pulls off a most improbable plot; as Oscar Wilde might have put it - 'to cause the death of another man's first wife....but to cause the death of his second....' Her descriptions of London are very evocative but I am left intrigued - what was the "inner circle" line?
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on 12 November 2013
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out more about the fight between good and evil in the world we live in
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on 27 May 2013
As with many novels, enjoyed the first eighty per cent but found the ending too tidy. Sign of a novel I love is one with an ending that isn't tired.
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on 13 February 2011
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. Despite all the advice Hilary receives from: his simple yet spiritually superior sister, Crystal; his truthful and inferior work colleague, Arthur; his older and wiser and argumentative homosexual friend Clifford Larr; his doped out pop singer and lodger, Christopher; the ethereal messenger, Biscuit; his well to do yet unhappily married couple Freddie and Laura Impiatt; his lovesick Scottish girlfriend Thomasina Uhlmeister; the comedy duo of Reggie and Mrs Witcher, nothing can help Hilary from being destined to make the same mistakes again. Even though for the last twenty years he has contemplated to death his past, he lacks that vital spark of humanity: moral fibre to do the right thing.

It is difficult to say more without spoiling a thoroughly enjoyable read; however, I would advise not reading the Introduction by Ray Monk until after finishing the novel as it does ruin the plot by dissecting it and unveiling all the smoke and mirrors Iris Murdoch manipulated with the consummate skill of a modern day illusionist/magician.

Rapier speech with a tendency to sarcasm where Hilary is concerned, yet the interleaving monologues are vociferous and eloquent and thought-provoking.

`Thrillinger and thrillinger!' to coin one of Hilary's flippant remarks.

Blots on the landscape:
I was surprised considering Iris Murdoch's bias toward perfection that there were so many odd words/odd punctuation in this book. Without looking for them, I have totalled seventy-five mistakes in my Clippings file. Hmm, upon reflection, I cannot believe these blemishes were in the original paperback; they look as though they have arisen from scanning the book, mistakes OCR font recognition software would induce when there were blots or grain peculiarities in the paper. Yes, that must be the reason. Unfortunately, it still begs the question: why were these Auntie's Bloomers not spotted when the kindle version of the book was produced? When customers have paid as much for an e-book as a paperback, they expect the same standards that are applied to the paperback production process!
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on 12 March 2013
Because of its age (1970s) this book can be difficult to find in shops. Used version had been well read (!) but adequately clean. Came promptly after order.
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on 25 January 2016
I have just finished re-reading 'A word child', a book I first read more than 20 years ago but which has stayed in my mind ever since, such was its' power and impression on me. And I can confidently say, second time around, this is undoubtedly one of Iris Murdoch's finest novels, if not the finest, and it remains my own personal favourite.
One of the book's many appeals is its' accessibility. There is less heavy philosophical pondering and machination than in some of her other works, though this by no means makes the novel any less worthy or a 'lightweight' read at all. Murdoch has created an unsettling web of intriuge peopled by some wonderful, strong characters engaged in complex gripping storylines. The fact that Murdoch makes us care about the characters at all is remarkable, they are almost all quite unlikeable, unfortunate, wretched, and yet the whole thing is utterly spellbinding and sometimes inpossible to put down.
This is indeed a bleak book, but one whose promise of redemption keep us guessing and reading until the surprising and tragic, yet cautiously hopeful conclusion. By turns beautiful, bizarre and intruiging this is a stunning novel that everyone should read and appreciate, not just fans of Murdoch. As a fan of hers I can only say that this remains my own personal favourite and I am so happy to have rediscovered it.
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VINE VOICEon 30 May 2011
The 'word child' of the title is Hilary Burde, our narrator. Following an unhappy childhood Hilary's future prospects looked bleak, until he discovered a passion for words and languages and embarked on a promising academic career at Oxford. However, when we first meet Hilary at the beginning of the novel, he is working as a low grade civil servant in London. We don't know at first why he left Oxford, but we are given hints that he had been involved in some kind of scandal there - and when Gunnar Jopling, a figure from his past, comes to work in Hilary's office building, everything starts to become clear.

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 (dinner with friends on Thursday, visiting his sister on Saturdays, for example) and the novel follows him as this monotonous cycle of events is gradually thrown into disarray. Murdoch's writing never becomes over descriptive or flowery, yet she manages to convey vivid images of the stations on the London Underground, the yellow fog that hangs over the Thames, the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. She also gives an amusingly accurate portrayal of daily office life, where Hilary is relentlessly teased by two of his colleagues, and there are other moments of humour involving Hilary's lodger, Christopher.

Hilary himself is not an easy character to like. He controls every aspect of his sister Crystal's life and the way he behaves towards his poor girlfriend, Thomasina, is even worse. And yet I could still empathise with him at times because his dysfunctional relationships and desperate attempts to stay in control are signs of the unhappiness and inner turmoil from which he's suffering. I really wanted Hilary and the other main characters to have a happy ending and although I'm obviously not going to tell you whether they did or not, I did think the ending was stunning: dramatic, surprising and very satisfying.

I enjoyed this book very much and loved Murdoch's insights into topics such as redemption, forgiveness and moving on after a tragedy. It was such a surprise because I wasn't expecting something so accessible and readable. I'd recommend A Word Child to anyone who may be wondering where to begin with Iris Murdoch.
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on 23 August 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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VINE VOICEon 4 April 2006
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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