A Word Child, by Iris Murdoch

Hilary Burde works in the civil service in a low-level administrative post, having given up any ambitions to a career following an (initially unspecified) personal disaster while he was at university. He has friends and a sister who he sees on a regular basis, but is so preoccupied with himself that he doesn't have much insight into what's going on in their lives: he is so obsessed with his own situation that it doesn't seem to occur to him that other people could have anything going on in their lives which compares to the events in his.

Throughout the book, Hilary ostensibly struggles with the problems of how to exorcise his demons and find redemption for the sins he feels he's committed, but in fact you get the feeling that he "enjoys" the problems that he gets himself into and so makes things more complicated than they need to be.

On several occasions Hilary decides on a course of action and states it to himself (and us) as a non-negotiable truth, before changing his mind a few pages later after something occurs to him to make him re-evaluate his situation. And there are several instances where another character does something completely unforseen, mainly because he's paying everyone else so little attention.

This reminds me very much of "The Black Prince": it's another first-person account by a guy with an unusual name - in that book it was Bradley - of a series of events and decisions which he spends a lot of time agonising over before making a mess of them. I don't think this was quite as funny as TBP though.

Enjoyable read.

Completed : 30-Dec-2003

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