Iris Murdoch’s usual desire to be everywhere and control everything in her novels, via an omniscient authorial voice, is restrained in A Word Child. It is Hilary Burde, as first-person narrator, who tells the story in a rather loose form of a journal, titling the chapter divisions by the days of the week. This is fitting since Burde is not only the book’s major character but also the self-obsessed center of all the action in the novel. He is not, however, so concerned about himself that he fails to see his own limitations, and he reveals considerable understanding of the other characters as well. Moreover, Burde is clearly aware of the fact that he is writing a story, and, as a result, he indulges himself in that richness of detail and background which is a mark of Murdoch’s own style of character exposition.
The manner in which Burde is involved with the other characters is helpful not only in revealing them fully but also in exploring closely their relation to Burde. As much as he possibly can, Burde sequesters his acquaintances, seeing them one at a time on specific days of the week. However rudimentary this may seem out of context, it works surprisingly well as a natural inclination of Burde’s strange personality. He likes to think of himself as antipathetic to human associations, but he is oddly gregarious, if mainly on a one-to-one basis.
The use of the first-person narrator allows for considerable rumination, and much...
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