The liar's dictionary : a novel

by Williams, Eley,

Format: Print Book 2020
Availability: Available at 26 Libraries 28 of 59 copies
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Summary
Winner of the 2021 Betty Trask Award
Shortlisted for the 2021 Desmond Elliott Prize

"An audacious, idiosyncratic dual love story about how language and people intersect and connect, and about how far we'll go to save what we're passionate about."-- NPR

An exhilarating and laugh-out-loud debut novel from a prize-winning new talent that chronicles the misadventures of a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer and the young woman put on his trail a century later to root out his misdeeds while confronting questions of her own sexuality and place in the world.

Mountweazel n. the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.

Peter Winceworth, Victorian lexicographer, is toiling away at the letter S for Swansby's multivolume Encyclopaedic Dictionary . His disaffection compels him to insert unauthorized fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some sense of individual purpose and artistic freedom.

In the present day, Mallory, a young intern employed by the publisher, is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels before the work is digitized. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Is the change in the definition of marriage really that upsetting? And does the caller really intend for the Swansby's staff to 'burn in hell'?

As these two narratives combine, both Winceworth and Mallory discover how they might negotiate the complexities of the often nonsensical, relentless, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn, and undefinable path we call life. An exhilarating debut novel from a formidably brilliant young writer, The Liar's Dictionary celebrates the rigidity, fragility, absurdity, and joy of language.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Peter Winceworth is a lexicographer at Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary in its nineteenth-century heyday, struggling his way through entries for the letter S while being largely ignored by his colleagues. His disdain for his situation, particularly his dislike of his flashy, ne'er-do-well colleague Terence Frasham, simmers until he boils over in private rebellion by inserting his own fabricated words into the dictionary, like "winceworthliness (n.), the value of idle pursuit." His illicit additions aren't uncovered until more than a century later. Mallory is an intern at Swansby's, much diminished since Winceworth's time and noted now primarily for being incomplete. She is responsible for answering the peculiar threatening calls (do definitions matter that much?) that arrive every day. As Mallory hunts for Winceworth's entries, the threats reach a climax that threatens the legacy of the dictionary. Although separated by time, Winceworth and Mallory share a zest for the precision of the right word and a tendency to harbor their own secrets. The Liar's Dictionary, while prone to detours through esoteric linguistic explorations, will nonetheless amuse word lovers intrigued by the pair's unusual exploits."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "In Williams's comically inventive debut novel (after the collection Attrib.), a woman must ferret out the falsities intentionally embedded in a dictionary. Mallory, the sole employee of David Swansby at Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, spends her days fielding angry, elliptical bomb threats from an unidentified crackpot. Then, one day, Swansby gives her a special assignment--to find all the mountweazels placed in his family's dictionary over the years. (A mountweazel is a fake word placed in reference works to protect against copyright infringement.) Williams flashes back to 1899, when Swansby's is a bustling enterprise that employs many lexicographers, among them Peter Winceworth, who loves to dream up mountweazels ("relectoblivious (adj.), accidentally rereading a phrase or line due to lack of focus or desire to finish"). Mallory and her lover, Pip, search for these fake words and try to ascertain the identity of the anonymous mountweazeler, while in a parallel narrative Winceworth falls frustratingly in love with a fellow lexicographer's fiancée, leading to two surprising and emotionally satisfying conclusions. The author combines a Nabokovian love of wordplay with an Ali Smith--like ability to create eccentric characters who will take up permanent residence in the reader's heart. This is a sheer delight for word lovers. (Jan.)"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Lexicographers -- Fiction.
Encyclopedias and dictionaries -- Fiction.
Truthfulness and falsehood -- Fiction.
English language -- Etymology -- Fiction.
Unrequited love -- Fiction.
Coming out (Sexual orientation) -- Fiction.
Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.) -- Fiction.
Threats of violence -- Fiction.
Great Britain -- History -- Victoria, 1837-1901 -- Fiction.
Historical fiction.
Romance fiction.
Publisher New York :2020
Edition First United States edition.
Language English
Description 270 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN 9780385546775
0385546777
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