Cover Image: The Liar's Dictionary

The Liar's Dictionary

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Member Reviews

I was utterly charmed and enthralled by The Liar's Dictionary, as any logophile would be. Not only are there two parallel stories of interest - one around Peter Winceworth a disenchanted Victorian lexicographer for the Swansby's Encyclopedic Dictionary and the other about modern day Intern Mallory working at the same establishment - but there is an abundance of terminology most readers will not have encountered before. It's vivid and amazing and joyous to behold in its scope and conversational depth. Quite unlike anything I've read before on that score.

I was a bit let down by the end. It felt ever so slightly shy of the mark, in my view. But, given my delight with the novel it would have been difficult to find an ending that would have done it justice.

If you love intriguing words and ideas, you are certain to delight in this novel as well.
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In 1899, Peter Winceworth is one of many employees working on Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Feeling bored and overwhelmed by the huge task, Winceworth is compelled to add fictitious entries to the dictionary.

In the present day, intern Mallory is tasked with finding Winceworth’s made-up entries so the dictionary can be digitalised. She also has to deal with daily threatening, anonymous phone calls. As the two narratives combine, both Winceworth and Mallory must navigate a nonsensical, undefinable life.

This is a delightful book, full of interesting and witty remarks on language and observations of life. I found it very easy to read and enjoyed the often playful style of writing. 

After a brilliant beginning and middle, I felt the ending fizzled out. This could have been intentional and related to the fact that the dictionary in the story is unfinished, but I found it a little disappointing. 

Even so, this is a wonderful book with likable, relatable characters. There are several moments in the book of startling clarity and depth of feeling that reminded me of the magic of writing and language. I recommend this book to language-lovers and anyone interested in ordinary characters trying to make their mark on the world. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Cornerstone for the opportunity to read and review this title.
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*** ARC provided by Netgalley via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***

What an enjoyable read, I knew the moment that I read the description that I would love this book. The concept of a mountweazel is a fairly new one to me and I love the idea of copyrighting your work that way; which I why I requested this book.

We have two combining narrative, one at the end of the 19th century following Peter Winceworth who, in a bid to assert himself, starts giving the dictionary he’s working for unauthorised fictitious entries. In the other, we have Mallory in the modern day, working for the same dictionary whilst being terrorised by an anonymous caller daily.

Both narratives are enjoyable and weave nicely together as the story unfolds. It took me a little while to get into the story but once I did I really enjoyed and would certainly recommend it to anyone. Even if it’s just so we can have a chat about mountweazels!
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I really enjoyed this book, very very different to anything else out there.

If you love words, this book is for you.

Set in two timeframes across the writing and editing of Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, we learn many new definitions of words, as well as many invented definitions of words. Winceworth has created a whole sheaf of "mountweazels" - fake entries in the dictionary. Many years later, Mallory is undertaking a mammoth task of trying to weed them all out.

Throw in a rather bizarre editor in chief, Mallory's girlfriend Pip, and some rather flamboyant nineteenth century characters, and there's a whole cast of interesting people to populate an enjoyable and unique story.

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Last in a line of Sawnsbys dedicated to the seemingly endless compilation of their eponymous dictionary, David Swansby took on Mallory three years ago. Her sole designated task is to answer the phone which rings with monotonous daily regularity, delivering an abusive threat which she keeps to herself. After stumbling upon several false entries, David asks Mallory to track down these ‘mountweazels’ prior to digitising the dictionary. Meanwhile, in 1899, Peter Winceworth is slyly slipping falsities into Swansby’s dictionary. One day, horribly hungover after his bête noir’s birthday party, Winceworth is sent off on a wild goose chase which ends dramatically. Who is the woman he met that night, and why has she taken an interest in him?

A dual narrative peppered with lots of discursive etymological nuggets, witty and occasionally laugh out loud funny, The Liar’s Dictionary is a glorious piece of storytelling. The nineteenth-century strand is particularly enjoyable, full of colourful characters and striking scenes – pelican wrestling in St James’ Park is one which will stay with me for quite some time. It’s rare that I do that thing of finishing a novel wanting to start back at the beginning but I’m sure there’s a great deal I missed in Eley Williams’ clever, entertaining and erudite book which I’m hoping to see on more than one literary prize list.
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A great story and an engrossing and fascinating read that kept me hooked till the end.
I loved the style of writing, the dual line plot and the well thought characters.
It was great to discover which words were real and which not.
I love it and it's strongly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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A really interesting take on a story. Set in both contemporary London and the 1890s, the tale follows two people - Mallory (contemporary and who we find out is a girl some way into the book) and Winchmore, a young man in the late Victorian era. Both work for Swansby's dictionary.
Both are hiding something, and both are trying to find something out. 
The story alternates between the two, and the connection between them is gradually revealed. 
An enjoyable book, which could do with a bit more editing to really bring it together.
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The Liar’s Dictionary is award-winning writer Eley Williams’s debut novel and is very much a polarising book you'll either love or hate.  Whilst it didn't have me quite as enamoured as I had hoped, overall I found it a compelling, profoundly original and a delightfully charming tale from opening pages right through to denouement. It should be every word, language and/or dictionary enthusiasts dream but it isn't quite as straightforward as that as there isn't much of a real plot as Williams makes the words and her turn of phrase her central focal point and you could say it was a word driven story as opposed to a plot or character-orientated one, which will appeal to some readers and not others. It's difficult to describe but it feels a little like some of Murakami’s inimitable novels in that sense and where he often inexplicably manages to simultaneously say so little but also so much. This is a wonderful work of literary fiction in which it becomes abundantly clear the passionate love affair the author has with language.

It's 1899 and Lexicographer Peter Winceworth is a man who belongs to the Diogenes school of thought in that he is as cynical as a person can be and has become tired and almost disillusioned with both people and life. He whiles away his days adding entries into Swanby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. To appease his dwindling sense of happiness and his dissatisfaction with the world he takes to entering random words amongst the real words in the dictionary knowing someone will likely discover their nature years later. Fast forward to present day and Mallory is currently working for Swanby’s as they work towards digitisation of the never-completed book. When her superior discovers words have been fabricated and placed into the book Mallory is challenged to discover all of the mountweazels present and more about the man who put them there and the reasoning behind them. In a turn of fate, Winceworth is given some sweet redemption and learns about the power of friendship.

This is a whimsical, engaging and joyous read and is profoundly perceptive and deftly observed with a smatter of satirical wit throughout. It also provokes thought on the topic of language formation and the evolution of the English language. Many thanks to William Heinemann for an ARC.
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This was wonderful for anyone who loves words and linguistics plus good storytelling. I could have spent many hours looking up definitions and checking which words were real and which fabricated. I found each of the stories compelling, although as a lover of historical fiction, my heart lay with Winceworth’s story. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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Most readers are keen to unearth new words and so a novel about a dictionary has got to catch your interest. There is plenty of wordplay in this intriguing novel and it will introduce you to new words although some of those words can’t be found in any published dictionary.  There are two storylines alternating through this novel. In the past we are taken to an office where lexicographers are compiling the Swansby Dictionary. The story concentrates on Peter Winceworth whose dictionary entries include some words of his own invention. In the present Mallory is working for David Swansby who wants to digitise the Swansby Dictionary. David discovers that some of the entries in the dictionary are fictional and asks Mallory to sort out the false entries.
I remember many years ago I worked in a large office where a few of us had ‘word of the day’ a rarely used word which we would try to use as much as possible in conversation and meetings to confound other office workers. This novel reminded me of the pleasure we derived from that activity. 
A great novel with plenty of wordplay.
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An unusual story with alternating timelines - one in the Victorian era (Peter) and one in the present (Mallory). Peter is a lexicographer, who enters false entries into a dictionary as a sign of frustration, while Mallory, in the present is ordered to find all the false entries and remove them. This introduces the reader to a lot of word and language play and thus I can see how this is a feast of a book for language lovers. However, the pretense for me was definitely different and the story itself fell a little flat for me. I really liked that every chapter started with a word using the order of the alphabet. So all the language nerds out there, this is for you! 3.5/5
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If you have a resounding love of words- of their nuances, ins-and-Outs, bits and pieces, etymology, and every other single thing about them, this book is going to be right up your alley. It's padded with definitions, lyrical sentences, definitions, the obscure, and the idea of words themselves. It's all examined, reading almost in part as a love-letter to the English language, but also as a character-driven study of human interactions and relationships. It balances these two things masterfully, giving them equal time, love, and appreciation. 

I was delighted to find the queer rep in this story- it's not often that representation, especially sweet representation, appears in fiction like this. Mallory, the main character, is a lovely person, if not a little neurotic, and her fierce adoration for Pip and the strength that their love finds is marvellous. I found myself a little more lost when it came to Winceworth- I understood his meaning as a character, but I wished he found a little more bravery within himself. His definitions were a beautiful addition, however, and to draw people together when he could not manage to do so in his own life was quite powerful. 

I found this book an utter delight- perhaps too short at 26 chapters and a rather abrupt ending that I wasn't entirely sure I loved, but besides that, it has a wonderful flow, and a lot of love obviously went into these pages. This book is a fantastic read on a cold night, cosied up- especially if you find delight in words that you're unable to find anywhere else.
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This book had me from the very first line, what a line, what a book. Williams goes to great lengths to play with language and words, exploring their power making this a fantastically interesting and insightful read. This does contain dual narratives and timelines and I found myself preferring the one set in the present, but nonetheless I did enjoy both. Fun, original and witty, The Liar's Dictionary is wilful, joyful and was truly a delight to read.
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The Liar's Dictionary was a pure joy to read. Witty, engaging and gorgeous wordplay full of wry observations on language and human behaviour.

It's 1899 and Peter Winceworth is a cynical and weary man. He spends his days as a lexicographer, adding and defining words to add to Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. He dreams of having enough money to move to Sennan Cove in Cornwall and living a peaceful life by the sea. He meets and falls in love with Sofia and shares his dream with her. But alas, she is engaged to be married. To leave his mark in this world he begins to make up words with their accompanying definitions (known as mountweazels) and I loved these - especially 'widge-wodge' - the alternating kneading of a cat's paws.

Present day, and Mallory is working for Swansby's attempting to digitise this never finished dictionary. When her boss discovers that there is a problem - that some words appear to have been made up - she is tasked with finding more of these mountweazels. Initially irritated at this task, she becomes intrigued at just who it was that entered these additions, and what the motivation was.

In a charming conclusion to Winceworth's story, he is given the chance to start the life he has always longed for in a generous and beautiful gesture of friendship. 

I smiled all the way through this gorgeous book, it was charming and original and I adored it.
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I was intrigued by the description of this book as being about "the rigidity, fragility and absurdity of language".   That aspect of the novel was indeed interesting and humorous.   However I did not find that the twin timeline narrative style worked for me. I could not warm to either of the main characters: 21st century Mallory, updating a never published dictionary, or 19th century Peter, writing the entries for the original work.   I enjoyed the created words and definitions made up by Peter in response to his mundane life but am not sure that Mallory's attempt to find these false words added anything to the plot.   It was a book to while away a few hours on a journey and to perhaps spark some made up words of one's own, but not one that I would particularly recommend or remember.
Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for providing me with a complimentary ARC of this book in return for an honest review.
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The office at Swansby’s is as esoteric and unusual as the text it produces. Mallory, an intern in the present day, has been tasked with identifying ‘mountweazels’ (fictional words which are usually indicative of plagiarism).  As well as following Mallory’s efforts to both complete her task and handle a bizarre threatening phone caller, we are treated to an insight into the works of Winceworth, whose 19th century efforts made the tome what it is- but whom was responsible for the anomalies that Mallory is trying to root out.

This is a sprightly, entertaining novel, providing a pleasurable deep dive into linguistics, the creative mind and whom you can and cannot trust.
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This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in words and use of language.It's a quirky,charming story of two  lexicographers working a hundred and twenty years apart for the same dictionary,which was never completed and so is a bit of an anomaly .Winceworth,working in 1899, is concerned about the lack of rigour being applied to the definitions in the dictionary by his fellow lexicographers so decides to add in some made up words with meanings that reflect his state of mind and personal circumstances.Mallory,working in the present day,is given the task of identifying these 'mountweasels' .She is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality and has been receiving threatening phone calls because of her definition of the word 'marriage' in a 21 st century context.
The two stories are told separately but both have a very satisfying conclusion ,and the use of language in the book is a delight. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an ARC in return for an honest review which reflects my own opinions.
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The Liar's Dictionary brings together two parallel narratives. Mallory is a young gay woman, working as the sole assistant to David Swansby, proprieter of Swansby's (famously incomplete) Dictionary. They are creating a digitised version of the dictionary, updating the definitions for the 21st Century but refusing to add or subtract from the lexicon. They know they can't compete with the OED, Chambers or Collins so they celebrate Swansby's quirkiness. 

And Mallory works in the same grand building overlooking St James's Park in which the Dictionary was born in the 19th Century. The second narrative follows Winceworth, a clerk on the first staff of the dictionary, researching and sorting definitions. Winceworth pretends to have a lisp and seems to be in awe of some of his more dashing colleagues. 

Oh, and Mallory is trying to identify and expunge the words that Winceworth made up all those years ago and smuggled into the catalogue alongside the genuine words. And someone is threatening to blow up Swansby House.

This seems like a rather flimsy vehicle for parading a long list of puns, obscure definitions and other heavily-worn research. The characters never feel real; it is unclear initially that the two narratives are separated in time; and the plot is chock-full of holes and coincidences while the characters do things that seem to have no motive or rational explanation. Example: Winceworth sees a girl he met at a party the previous night (the fiancee of a colleague) wresting a pelican in the park. Winceworth decides to join in, ends up drenched in pelican blood, runs into the very work colleague whose fiancee he has assisted in a cafe when they should both have been at work. The colleague decides to prank Winceworth by sending him on a fool's errand to Barking to meet an unknown person at an unspecified place and time to discuss the etymology of Barking - whereupon he is caught up in an explosion. 

The parallels between the stories feel contrived - the explosions; the partners of Swansby staff showing up uninvited to Swansby House and wandering around floors that are off limits; the precarious financial position of the dictionary... 

This felt like a really long read - it was so easy to get distracted by more interesting things - walking the dog, washing up, doing on-line jigsaw puzzles, etc. It's not that it was particularly bad, it's just it didn't have anything to really engage this reader.
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I was looking forward to reading this book as I love words and language and etymology. But it was disappointing. The Preface came across as pretentious, and the A-Z chapters that followed covered two different but related stories, neither of which were up to much as far as a plot goes.  I read Simon Winchester's amazing Meaning of Everything earlier this year and there are echoes of Johnson's endeavours in the older storyline. I know I was reading an e-ARC of this title but with less than a week to go before publication and with the cover and copyright info in place I was not expecting an unproofed version. I was therefore surprised at how many times I was caught by a seeming typo; maybe it was deliberate but, if so, I didn't enjoy it. Overall the book seems to try too hard to be clever.
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We have two separate narratives going on in Eley Williams' humorous and delightful A-Z. 
In pre-war London, Winceworth is a disgruntled intellectual character: bored and ignored at work amongst the lexicographers of Swansby's Dictionary, he begins to insert made up words into the dictionary and falls in love with a rival's girlfriend. There is an episode in a London Park involving wrestling a Pelican that could have been lifted out of a classic Kingsley Amis or David Lodge novel.

In the present day Mallory is employed in a pointless exercise to help transfer the unfinished Swansby Dictionary online and along with her girlfriend Pip, begins to discover the false entries. She is harassed by an anonymous caller claiming they will burn down the building.

As well as the gentle humour, the joy in reading this book is in discovering new words (you will need a complete dictionary to hand) and pondering over the philosophy of dictionaries and words themselves - who gets to define a word and whether a word has real weight or not if it is not in a dictionary.
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