The Liar’s Dictionary
‘Made me almost tearful with gratitude that a book as clever as this could give such uncomplicated pleasure … And when you find a book like this, you grab it, and you hold it close.’ JOHN SELF
‘A delight … As funny and vivid as Dickens, as moving and memorable as Nabokov … An extraordinarily large-hearted work.’ THE CRITIC
Picked as a ‘Book of the Year’ in the Guardian
mountweazel, noun: a fake entry deliberately inserted into a dictionary or work of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.
In the final year of the nineteenth century, Peter Winceworth has reached the letter ‘S’, toiling away for the much-anticipated and multi-volume Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Overwhelmed at his desk and increasingly uneasy that his colleagues are attempting to corral language and regiment facts, Winceworth feels compelled to assert some sense of individual purpose and exercise artistic freedom, and begins inserting unauthorised, fictitious entries into the dictionary.
In the present day, young intern Mallory is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels as the text of the dictionary is digitised for modern readers. Through the words and their definitions she finds she has access to their creator’s motivations, hopes and desires. More pressingly, she must also field daily threatening anonymous phone calls. Is a suggested change to the dictionary’s definition of marriage (n.) really that controversial? What power does Mallory have when it comes to words and knowing how to tell the truth? And does the caller really intend for the Swansby’s staff to ‘burn in hell’?
As their two narratives combine, Winceworth and Mallory must discover how to negotiate the complexities of an often nonsensical, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn and undefinable life.
The Liar’s Dictionary explores themes of trust and creativity, naming the unnameable, and celebrates the rigidity, fragility and absurdity of language. It is an exhilarating debut novel from a formidably brilliant young writer.
‘Eley Williams’s debut novel, The Liar’s Dictionary, is a lexicographical delight.’ OBSERVER
‘Deft and clever, refreshing and rewarding … An assured and satisfying writer, her language rich and intricate and her characters rounded enough to be sympathetic and lampoonist enough to be terribly funny.’ LITERARY REVIEW
‘[The] most exciting of young British writers … Williams luxuriates in words and wordplay, in definition and precision and invention …The Liar’s Dictionary is a public joy, and Eley Williams a free-spirited literary kook with bags of potential.’ BIG ISSUE
‘A singular, hilarious, word-drunk novel, which I suspect will be seen in the future as a classic comic novel.’ DAVID HAYDEN, IRISH TIMES
‘The Liar’s Dictionary is the book I was longing for … Positively intoxicated with the joy and wonder of language … Eley Williams brings erudition and playfulness – and lovely sweetness – to every page.’ BENJAMIN DREYER, New York Times bestselling author of DREYER’S ENGLISH
‘This tale of lexical intrigues is an absolute joy to read! It’s gloriously inventive and playful, but with just the right amount of heart.’ LUCY SCHOLES
The Liar’s Dictionary is deft and clever, refreshing and rewarding … Words and meaning are of paramount importance in this novel. Williams’s naming conventions are Dickensian in their symbolism … Williams is an assured and satisfying writer, her language rich and intricate and her characters rounded enough to be sympathetic and lampoonist enough to be terribly funny. Her writing owes something to Wodehouse but more to Waugh in his most amusing of disgruntled humours. In both storylines, there is a mystery to be uncovered and a dramatic – and violent – event to be endured. In neither are these the main focus. Rather, it is the connection between Mallory and Winceworth, as we watch each struggle with love, life and speaking their mind, that makes the book so delightful. * Literary Review * Eley Williams is enraptured by the metaphysical intimations of language … A novel that, in addition to everything else it manages to achieve and to be, stands in some ways as an embodiment of, and an affectionate reproach to, Samuel Johnson’s definition of the form as “a small tale, generally of love” …A delight. Williams handles their respective stories with a gripping command of the development of her plot…dazzling clarity of thought and vision, an extraordinarily fecund capacity for imaginative compassion. Some of these qualities lie in the freshness, elegance and lyricism of Williams’s prose … Yet her book is also gloriously full of gently sardonic asides; charmingly deadpan divagations; and an aptitude for the choreography of cartoon and slapstick that is as funny and vivid as Dickens, as moving and memorable as Nabokov … For all its exuberance, however, this is ultimately a gentle and reflective book whose great preoccupations – the power of language to realise, shape, and deny our natures; the attributes, boundaries and meanings of human connection – are addressed with a care, intelligence and sensitivity that is suffused with an atmosphere of fellow-feeling, shared endeavour, friendship … By attending so assiduously to the circumstances that propel them to this point, The Liar’s Dictionary stands as an extraordinarily large-hearted work of obeisance to the lexicographical belief in the “transformative power of proper attention paid to small things”, and as an ennoblingly expansive guide to the plangent lineaments of love. — Matthew Adams * The Critic * The Liar’s Dictionary … made me almost tearful with gratitude that a book as clever as this could give such uncomplicated pleasure … Williams’s triumph in The Liar’s Dictionary is to bring together two people a century apart with a unifying comic vision. In each setting she creates a completed world full of sticky details … There are pleasingly silly jokes (a series of cats called Tits), delight taken in names (Winceworth’s nemesis is Frasham, a man who would now be described as a jock) and brilliant set pieces involving parties and pelicans, all in the service of an inquiry into language and words … Language is what enables Winceworth and Mallory to communicate indirectly through the entries in Swansby’s dictionary, and back to back on the pages of this novel … Look: it’s possible that I am the perfect reader for this book and that no one else will get as much out of it as I do. But it gave me the same joie de livre that I got from the likes of Italo Calvino, Nicholson Baker and Andrew Crumey when I first started reading fancy grown-up novels twenty-odd years ago. And when you find a book like this, you grab it, and you hold it close. — John Self * The Critic * This tale of lexical intrigues is an absolute joy to read! It’s gloriously inventive and playful, but with just the right amount of heart. — Lucy Scholes I have just read Eley Williams’s forthcoming novel The Liar’s Dictionary, a singular, hilarious, word-drunk novel, which I suspect will be seen in the future as a classic comic novel. — David Hayden * Irish Times *
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