The Liar’s Dictionary

It is the final year of the nineteenth century and Peter Winceworth has reached the letter ‘S’, toiling away for the much-anticipated and multi-volume ‘Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary’. He is overwhelmed at his desk and increasingly uneasy that his colleagues are attempting to corral language and regiment facts. Compelled to assert some sense of individual purpose and exercise artistic freedom, Winceworth 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.

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'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

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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.
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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.
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'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

Additional information

Weight 357 g
Dimensions 204 × 138 × 138 mm
Author

Eley, Williams

Publisher

William Heinemann

Imprint

William Heinemann

Cover

Hardback

Pages

265

Language

English

Edition

Hardback original

Dewey

823.92 (edition:23)

Readership

General – Trade / Code: K

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