Hilary Burde has buried himself in a modest civil service job in expiation for having caused a terrible tragedy some twenty years earlier, which he has kept secret ever since. He lives a life of constant bitterness and recrimination, barely relieved by the love of his sister Crystal and the attention of a few friends who are prepared to put up with his constant, vituperative pessimism. Surprisingly, although not a handsome man, he is capable of eliciting deep affection, sometimes love, from others, while refusing to give much of anything back but constant abuse.
His deep melancholy is intensified by the fact that the tragedy caused by him not only killed the woman he loved but also destroyed his academic career and his ambition to take care of his sister and himself in dignity and comfort. Their mother died while they were young children, and Burde, a troublesome boy, spent most of his early life in an orphanage, separated from his sister. In his teens, his skill for languages was discovered, and he won a scholarship to Oxford and was asked to stay on as a fellow. It was at that time that the disaster occurred.
Some twenty years later, Burde learns that Gunnar Jopling is the new head of the government department in which Burde has a very minor appointment. It was Jopling’s wife, with whom Burde was having an affair, who was killed in the car driven by Burde. Her death caused both men to leave Oxford, after which Jopling became a...
(The entire section is 591 words.)