The Dictionary of Lost Words

Pip Williams. Ballantine, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-16019-0
In Williams’s exuberant, meticulously researched debut, the daughter of a lexicographer devotes her life to an alternative dictionary. As a young child in 1880s Oxford, Esme Nicoll is enchanted by the “Scriptorium,” a shed behind their house where her father, Harry, works with a team to sort and select words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. When she finds the word “bondmaid” on a discarded slip and realizes the term refers to a female slave, Esme begins her own effort, the “Dictionary of Lost Words,” stowing slips of words deemed unfit for the OED in a chest belonging to their servant, Lizzie. In her teens, Esme becomes further obsessed with which words make the cut—decisions primarily made by men—and listens to women in the marketplace, returning with suggestions for Harry. The ensuing bildungsroman carries the reader at a rapid pace through Esme’s 20s, when she rubs shoulders with suffragettes, finds romance, and bonds with Lizzie while struggling to get her book of lost words printed. Though this sweeping effort takes some time to build momentum, the payoff is deeply satisfying. Williams’s feminist take on language will move readers. Agent: Linda Kaplan, DeFiore and Co. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/22/2021
Release date: 04/06/2021
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-1-9848-2073-0
MP3 CD - 978-0-6556-6825-1
Compact Disc - 978-0-6556-6798-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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