An international best-seller and winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize, Lempriere's Dictionary is the debut novel from Lawrence Norfolk, one of England's most innovative, internationally acclaimed young authors. In eighteenth-century London, John Lempriere works feverishly on a celebrated dictionary of classical mythology that bears his name. He discovers a conspiracy against his family dating back 150 years. Told with the narrative drive of a political thriller and a Dickensian panorama of place and time, this ...
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Lempriere's Dictionary

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An international best-seller and winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize, Lempriere's Dictionary is the debut novel from Lawrence Norfolk, one of England's most innovative, internationally acclaimed young authors. In eighteenth-century London, John Lempriere works feverishly on a celebrated dictionary of classical mythology that bears his name. He discovers a conspiracy against his family dating back 150 years. Told with the narrative drive of a political thriller and a Dickensian panorama of place and time, this astonishing tale encompasses the Great Voyages of Discovery, multinational financial conspiracies, and a motley cast of scholars and eccentrics, drunken aristocrats, whores and assassins, and octogenarian pirates, all brilliantly depicted across three continents and the world of classical mythology.

In 18th-century London, the author of a mythology dictionary finds himself heir to a mystery--one that leads him to a 150-year-old feud and introduces him to a cast that includes aristocrats, assassins, prostitutes, pirates, savages, and scholars. W. Somerset Maugham Award Winner.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few discerning readers will care to hack through this choked jungle of historical fiction, fantasy and myth, despite the obvious intelligence and erudition British first novelist Norfolk displays here. John Lempriere, an actual 18th-century classicist and mythographer, perceives the world through the lenses of Greek and Latin fables. When he sees his father mangled by hunting dogs, just after both have witnessed a naked girl--John's adored Juliette--bathing in a forest stream, this evocation of Actaeon and Diana goads Lempriere to ``lay the ghosts to Antiquity'' by compiling his famed Dictionary . In 19th-century London, ancient ghosts proliferate. Lampriere views Pork Club revelers as Circe's swine; a grotesquely murdered woman who was fed molten gold is perceived as Danae, seduced by Jove in a golden rain; a Juliette lookalike, slain in a goatskin, is a latter-day Iphigenia. Interlarded is a bloated subplot, delineating a scam enacted generations earlier by a party of East India traders, which in 1627 led to Richelieu's crushing siege of the French city of La Rochelle when Huguenots sided with the English. During an eerie trance (paralleling the underworld visits of heroes Ulysses and Aeneas) Lempriere learns of his ancestor's meddling in the traders' ``Cabbala.'' It is the phantoms of history who drove him to authorship. Norfolk's superimposition of mythic patterns on urban life implies a model in James Joyce's Ulysses. While his scheme misfires, he is a writer of talent who may yet write a better novel. (Sept.)
Library Journal
If Norfolk's first novel were indeed a dictionary, its first entries might well be accomplished, ambitious, and audacious. On one level this is a richly textured historical novel set at the end of the 18th century in London, Paris , and the Channel Islands. At the same time it subverts our expectations, revealing ``history '' as a vast conspiracy whose workings are both mysterious and inevitable. At its center is John Lempri ere, a (real) figure whose 1788 dictionary of mythology insists on springing to gruesome life. An army of cabalists and automatons, a virtual bureaucracy of the damned, plotting apocalypse, are ranged against him. Dauntingly elusive and allusive, but highly recommended for readers of Eco and Fowles. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/92.-- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Kirkus Reviews
A masterful debut from Londoner Norfolk that delves into 18th- century commerce by way of classical mythology, suggesting grim secrets behind the spectacular success of the East India Company—secrets that have root in the mass suicide of Huguenots under siege in the French port city of Rochelle more that a century earlier. Deftly merging history, classical allusions, and fabulous fantasy, in a style that merits comparison to Dickens as well as Gilbert & Sullivan, Norfolk conjures up an imaginary life of John LempriŠre, actual author of a popular precursor to Bullfinch's Mythology. As an awkward young man on the isle of Jersey, John witnesses his father's violent death when assaulted by a pack of savage hounds owned by neighbor Viscount Casterleigh, whose daughter John loves with paralyzing passion. Then, while settling his father's estate in London, he learns of a mysterious contract between a distant Huguenot ancestor and an English earl, and his interest in it grows as he makes contact with others who fill in pieces of the puzzle. Meanwhile, in caverns deep beneath the city, a cabbala plots to lure young LempriŠre into their midst using member Casterleigh's daughter as bait; an assassin from the Indian Nawab' palace stalks the two; a ship full of ancient mariners, pirates all, plies its way to the London docks in pursuit of a cargo of sulphur from which to make gunpowder; and unrest among city laborers and the lower classes grows, incited by the firebrand Farina. LempriŠre comes face-to-face with the cabbala in their lair, where he finds their leader to be his own distant ancestor and learns why he was encouraged to write his dictionary, triggering a larger conflagration as theassassin, pirates, and the mob make their moves while the evil Company is destroyed, literally, by an avenging angel. Wildly and wonderfully improbable, reveling in the countless allusions that feed its dark vision: a delight for classicists, historians, and any reader eager to be overwhelmed by a story. An exceptional achievement.
From the Publisher
“This novel outstrips any I’ve read.”
New York Times Book Review

“A dazzling linguistic and formal achievement.”
–Salman Rushdie

“Extravagantly spectacular . . . myriad wonders and pleasures abound . . . superbly entertaining.”
Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802199430
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 739,780
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Lawrence Norfolk was born in London in 1963. He has written three novels: Lemprière’s Dictionary, Pope’s Rhinoceros, and In the Shape of a Boar.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2003

    Intelligent and enjoyable

    Appropriately compared to the works of Thomas Pynchon, Lempriere's Dictionary offers an intelligent and intricately structured view of society just below the skin where you can't see the powerful directing lives and dictating outcomes. A good addition to anti-realism that tests the notion that free will exists. Far from being paranoid, this novel explores points in history and wonders if something else entirely is going on just beyond our assumptions. This isn't paranoia, its a welcome examination of our lives and may be more right than wrong. Heady stuff and Norfolk's peculiar take on how society works is elemental in this novel, but it doesn't mean the book is boring or too weird. While Norfolk does not share Pynchon's ear for language and his ability to periodically nail an amazing turn of phrase, Norfolk's genius is one of organization and meticulous language. Norfolk belongs to that small group of authors who turn out enjoyable yet intelligent and often profound literature. Lempriere's Dictionary is absorbing, moving from well constucted atmosphere to frantic excitement. The Pope's Rhinoceros is better, the language more mature and the atmosphere more real, but Lempriere's Dictionary is an excellent first novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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