The Liar's Dictionary

The Liar's Dictionary

by Eley Williams

Hardcover

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In Our Blog: The Right Words Are Just Waiting to Be Found: An Exclusive Guest Post from Eley Williams, Author of The Liar’s Dictionary — Our January Discover Pick. Read Now.

Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

A playful take on a sometimes-pretentious subject, The Liar’s Dictionary is a superbly whimsical novel from wordsmith Eley Williams. Williams’ debut novel successfully intertwines both contemporary and historical story plotlines, meditates on the meaning of agency, and allows language itself to be rightfully center-stage. Prepare yourself to be delighted!

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.

“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


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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385546775
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 4,095
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

ELEY WILLIAMS is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She is the author of Attrib. and Other Stories, and her work has appeared in The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story, Liberating the Canon, The Times Literary Supplement, and London Review of Books. She lives in London.

Reading Group Guide

1. Have you ever browsed through a dictionary the way that’s described in the preface? If so, what unique words did you find?

2. At the beginning of the novel, Winceworth muses that “there should really be a specific word associated with the side effects of drinking an excess of alcohol.” Is there a feeling or sensation you feel there should be a specific word for?

3. When David tells her about mountweazels, or made up words, Mallory points out that “all words are made up.” How do you think made up words become “real words”? Can you think of any recent examples?

4. Why do you think Mallory has stayed at Swansby’s for so many years?

5. The Liar’s Dictionary has two protagonists, one from the past (Winceworth) and one from the present (Mallory). What do you make of the relationship between these two characters? What traits do they share?

6. The book contains many lesser-known definitions for familiar words. Was there one definition that particularly surprised you?

7. What do you think is the strongest factor in Winceworth’s decision to include “mountweazels” in the dictionary?

8. What was your favorite mountweazel?

9. Mallory reflects on some more nontraditional “dictionaries” she owns, such as The Language of Flowers. Do you think of books like this as “dictionaries”? Why or why not? What do you think are the most important characteristics of a dictionary?

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