Arts & Leisure

Book review: The Liar’s Dictionary — by Eley Williams

(Doubleday Books)
Mallory, three years into a “temporary” internship at Swansby’s, the smaller, disgruntled and forgotten tome akin to the Oxford English Dictionary, mainly fields vaguely threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. David Swansby, heir apparent who indulges his online chess addiction for most hours of the working day, then tasks her with ferreting out mountweazels (n.), deliberately constructed but bogus entries, of which, he has just discovered, Swansby’s is overrun. Meanwhile, in 1899, Swansby’s labors to bring out the first British encyclopedic dictionary, before the OED can manage it, but before they finish, WWI snatches away its legions of lexicographers. It is duly published, though unfinished, earning it a slightly disgraced place in the annals of history. Winceworth, one of the original lexicographers, who evokes the ghost of Bartleby the Scrivener, is searching for a way out, and his story unfurls in tandem with Mallory’s, as alphabetized chapters alternate between present day London and turn of the century London. At its logophile heart, this paean to words is a love story, and a wonderfully clever one at that, though it’s not just agile wordplay, it’s the characters peopling the pages that bring this novel to life.
— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.
 

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