The Liar’s Dictionary

Eley Williams. Doubleday, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-54677-5
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.)
Reviewed on : 09/29/2020
Release date: 01/12/2021
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-593-31186-8
Book - 978-0-385-54678-2
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-7352-8149-3
Paperback - 460 pages - 978-0-593-34608-2
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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