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The Dictionary of Lost Words

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Inspired by the composition of the Oxford English Dictionary, this debut novel explores the lives of the women on its fringes through the words that were omitted. The suffrage movement and World War I loom large as the storyline enters the 1910s. I most appreciated the relationships Esme has with the various women in her life. The main action spans the 40 years of the original composition of the OED. That scope means there is a lot of skipping forward in time. Especially in the first half, I longed for the narrative to slow down so I could spend more time with this character. Despite the first-person narration, I never felt I knew Esme very well. Women’s bonds and women’s words are strong themes in this forthrightly feminist novel that, despite its flaws, would make a great book club selection.
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This book follows Esme from her childhood of sitting under the table of the scrippy collecting dropped slips to her adult life working in the scriptorium following in her fathers footsteps. 

I enjoyed this book and it moved at a leisurely pace keeping me entertained.
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Review - The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

This review has been made possible thanks to @NetGalley and Vintage, Penguin Random House for providing me with an Advance Reader’s Copy in exchange for an honest review.

The story follows Esme from 6 years old through her adulthood as she grows up with her father, a scholar working on the first Oxford English Dictionary, surrounded by words the team of editors decide between including and rejecting. She starts collecting the discarded words, keeping them safe in the bottom of a trunk under the bed. The words she discovers take her through the journey of growing up from a middle class child, through boarding school, and then back through her young adult years. 

She experiences friendships, widens her horizons by discovering new words, used by working class and, having never been written down, they won’t be included in her father’s project. So she inadvertently starts her own, collecting phrases from women in her life, like Mabel selling her carved wooden figurines and very knowledgable in the kind of vocabulary that Esme was searching out, to Tilda, an actress friend of hers who gets very involved in the Suffragette movement, and most importantly, her love of words supported from an early age by her aunt Ditte, who invites her to Bath to be a research assistant for a novel on English history. 

I loved the concept from the very beginning, as I have also been fascinated by the etymology of words since childhood, especially where there are different meanings used by different groups. The setting really appealed to me as a lover of historical literature but I think Williams really carved out a niche for herself and Esme in the existing history of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The story seemed to me as full of wonder, firstly childlike, then a more grown-up, mature interest and passion for language. 

The book was written beautifully, and while the first half took me a few days to get through, I never once lost interest. The second half I finished in a morning. There are moments of incredible depth in someone who is still a rather young person and there is also heartbreak and loss and grief. It’s an incredibly varied and complicated book with many sweet, funny, and bittersweet moments, just like there are in life. You find yourself rooting for the characters you’ve seen grow up before your eyes. It’s definitely a book I would recommend for anyone interested in linguistics, history, especially during the lead up to WW1 and the Women’s Rights movement. 

My only wish is to go back to the start and read it again without having any memory of reading it the first time. It’s truly a unique, wonderful experience that I can’t get enough of!
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Thank you, NetGalley for a chance to read and review this. I can't really write a review for a book that made me cry three times. I had really high expectations for the book, and somehow it exceeded them. The blurb does not do this book justice in the slightest.
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The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams provides a fascinating insight into the limitations imposed on language by the people who write it down. We first meet young Esme as she sits under the table in the Scriptorium – the garden 'shed' in Oxford, out of which Dr James Murray's first Oxford English Dictionary was produced. The men working in the Scriptorium, of which Esme's father is one, collect and manage the slips of paper, containing individual words, that are sent to them from people far and wide. Occasionally, the odd slip flutters down to the floor, and it is these words that Esme squirrels away into her secret store. A massive undertaking, the dictionary takes years to compile. As Esme outgrows her special space under the table, she begins to realise that there are other words, the words of women, that are being overlooked and ignored by Victorian society. 

I thought this was a great read, not least because it's based in my local town, Oxford. Loosely based on a true story, it is strong on historical detail. Alongside the male scholars, a cast of strong women – cooks, maids, and teachers – abound.
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Words, I looked up the definition, but nothing quite illustrated the feeling I wanted to convey.
Marvellous, fascinating, moving, absorbing, revealing, my words do not do this book justice.
Esme discovered words and their meaning at her Fathers knee, she used to be under the sorting desk of the scriptorium from a very young age. Her growing awareness of words excluded from the new dictionary being compiled lead her to secretly amass some words with the help of a maid Lizzie. A big influence on her life is her Aunt Dittie who sends her away to a boarding school not realising its harsh and cruel methods, it takes Esme years to recover from the trauma.
Esme meets Tilda and her brother Bill, she comes under Tilda's influence and explores women's suffrage and her own sexuality with tragic consequences.
When the First World War breaks out, the staff of the scriptorium disappear and Esme takes on more duties, she meets Gareth a typesetter, after a long courtship the two marry, Gareth engagement gift to her is beyond words.
I do not want to spoil the story for anyone.
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This book follows the fortunes of Esme. Her father is a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary and at the start of the book Esme is to be found under the table at the Scriptorium (the "shed" where the dictionary compilers work). Being motherless, she is cared for by the family "servant" Lizzie who introduces her to the other side of Oxford. Esme begins to collect words from the vendors at the covered market in Oxford- everyday words that she cannot find in the dictionary. When she links up with a suffragette actress, the words she collects then relate even more to the female experience of life, words that the men choose not to enter into the OED.

With her eyes opened Esme must then find a new way through life that combines her love of words but also her new found vision of a changing world through World War 1 and the Women's Suffrage movement. What is the link with Australia at the end of the book?
A book about the power of language but also how power relates to language.An interesting read.
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Esme may not have the family unit she craves but spending time in the Scriptorium, a shed where her father and lexicographers are collating words for the first Oxford English Dictionary, is both exciting and captivating. However, her role is to remain unseen and unheard, only listening to the conversation and not participating. That said, not all words are thought of as equal, as Esme learns when some discarded, unclaimed, not set to appear in this innovative tome. This prompts Esme to collect the words – that seem to relate to women’s experiences – for another, special kind of book. This feels like a charming read, but one with a sense of mindfulness within – given how little anything to do with the fairer sex was to be considered for the dictionary. Beautifully written to boot.
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So "The Dictionary of Lost Words" is a historical fiction novel by Australian writer Pip Williams. It follows the life of Esme, which is interconnected with the compiling of the very first Oxford English Dictionary.
Especially in the beginning I really liked the writing style. And even though I'm usually not a fan of child narrators or main characters - they can ruin everything for me - but here it worked really well for me. There is some kind of eeriness about the child and its world. Esme seems to be lost, but at the same time loved, cared for and one with her father.
Unfortunately it didn't come true for me in the rest of the novel. Continuing on I'm sorry to say that I found the book just a bit bland and anemic. I lost the connection to the main character over the course of the novel, which also lead to me not really following her motivation for compiling her own dictionary. This may be a very personal reading experience of course, but it made me focus on things that I WISHED the novel would have been more.
I realize it is rather classic historical fiction, but I couldn't help thinking that a different format, something more experimental would have felt more fitting for the subject matter. 
More than once I wished that the novel had undergone a serious good editing.  I'm usually not on the side of heavy editing, I don't mind long or not not plot driven novels at all,  but the narration here at times felt unedited in the way of how a person themselves would write down their life, no emphasis on events as highlights. At other times a touch of rather heavy constructing writing work came into the foreground, too. An example for this are maybe the repeated mentions of "Her" in half sentences. (Trying not to add a spoiler here...) Again, don't get me wrong, this indeed is probably the most defining experience of the main character for most of the book, but it didn't come up naturally, but rather felt planted there as if counting the pages and inserting a mention of "Her" at regular intervals. So over all it reads very constructed. In the afterword the author explains how the book came to be and how fictional characters were inserted into a real-life story, and I'm afraid the seams showed throughout the book. Elements were added (another example here is the Esperanto cure for the traumatized soldiers) that felt lost in the narrative, that didn't convey meaning and didn't come to a conclusion in the course of the novel.
So I guess, in the end it's sound historical fiction, unfortunately I just didn't feel it as much as other readers did.
Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing a review copy!
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What a beautiful read this is, a story of a love of words and also family and friendships. The books follows a young Esme through life, through trials and tribulations but always with her love of words to support her.. The book is primarily set in Oxford during the early 1900's when the first Oxford English dictionary was being written and Esme grows up in the scriptorium where her father is working in it, along with others. Throw in the suffrage movement and WW1 and it's an interesting insight into the life of a young working woman of the time. I definitely recommend and thanks to the author, Netgalley and the publisher for my arc.
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The New Oxford English Dictionary is something most people have heard of but few I'm sure have ever thought of the work that goes into the compilation of that work. In a shed in Oxford called the Scriptorium scholars works to compile the dictionary & check the facts & definitions that stand beside them. In this story Esme, whose mother dies shortly after she was born is the daughter of one of those men. She spent a lot of her time sitting under the table looking at slips that have been dropped, she also spent a lot of time with Lizzie, who although no much older than Esme is part sister, part mother substitute. Esme starts to collect words that are lost & put them in an old trunk. She also discovers that there are many words that are never likely to find their way into the 'real' dictionary! Words that are considered too crude, lowbrow & words likely used by 'lower classes' (I loved Esme's visits to the market!) It becomes Esme's passion to make her own dictionary. It tells of women's suffrage  & Esme. It is beautifully written, fascinating & one of my books of the years so far. Thanks to Netgalley & the publisher for letting me read & review this fascinating book.
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This book is a delight for word lovers. The story takes place in Oxford at the time the Oxford Dictionary was being researched and published. 
Esme's father works for the respected Jame Murray, the first editor of the dictionary. As a little girl, sitting under the table in the Scriptorium, Esme discovers that all the words are not considered worthy of entering the dictionary, and in particular those related to the lives and experiences of women, and they find their way in her pockets. As she grows up and lives a very unconventional life influenced by the movement of the suffragettes and the First World War, she continues to collect these special words. Her life is not the happiest, but her joy is the Dictionary of Lost Words, printed specially for her by her beloved husband. A legacy that will live beyond her short life. 
As a book and word lover, I really enjoyed this book for its story, its style and all the research that went into it. It made me curious about the Oxford Dictionary and how it was created. It also challenged me to think of the way bias and culture shape the words that are considered the right ones to use. A really interesting topic which novels don't often take on. The acknowledgements section has got to be one of the most original I have read. And so, there is only one way I could conclude, with the Oxford Dictionary.
PRAISE : The expression of approval or admiration for someone (Pip Williams) or something (The Dictionary of Lost Words).

Thank you to Netgalley, Random House UK Vintage and Pip William for having given me the privilege of reading this book on a advance readers copy.
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A beautifully written elegant novel about love, loss, belonging and the awesome power of words. Following the life of motherless Esme, who grows up loved but overlooked in the male dominated (and extremely fascinating) world of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Set in changeable period of English history from women’s suffrage to the first world war. This is a powerful novel that tugs on the heart strings, leaving you sailing a sea of emotions. I adored the characters, both the keys one and the smaller cameos. I felt they all had something to add to the story and were given an individual voice and suitable words to do it with. The research was impeccable and certainly makes me want to read more about this topic as I had no idea how long it took or how much work was involved in the writing of the OED. In summary I can’t recommend this book highly enough, for anyone with an interest in words, or a lover of fabulous characters, or a penchant for well plotted stories then this is the book for you. Prepare to be engaged, enraged, enraptured, heart-broken and utterly spent by the time you finish this book. A well earned and completely deserved five shiny stars from me!
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I really enjoyed this book. Esme is a wonderful character and the book has a great deal to say about the how the first Oxford dictionary did a disservice to the richness of the English language, particularly  from the female viewpoint.
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This is such a beautiful story. The history of words in the English Oxford dictionary was fascinating and I loved learning about the process involved in the Scriptorium. 
The characters are wonderful- so warmly described; from Esme, who feels the responsibility for all of the discarded and unwanted words, to Lizzie who is there for Esme at every turn, to Mabel who provided some of the more ‘fruity ‘ words for Esme’s collection. All women who prove that their voices count  as much as the next man. 
A truly evocative read that will stay with me for a long time.
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Sumptuous, stupendous, superb, sorrowful, stirring, satisfying, scintillating, sagacious, sisterly

Okay, this book arrives from its original publication in Australia, trailing clouds of glory. There has been, is, a lot of positive advance buzz, which I refuse to call ‘hype’ because in this case, the astonishing breadth, depth and volume of praise is absolutely deserved.

This book is a nourishing and joy inducing read, something both feel-good and actually does good. Think the very best dark chocolate not some kind of sugar filled ersatz which leaves you feeling faintly sick and empty!”

The springboard for the novel’s genesis was the discovery that, on the original publication  of the first edition of the relevant section of the Oxford English Dictionary, that the word ‘bondmaid’ (and indeed, many other words across the volumes) was missing.

Williams, clearly a writer in deep love with language, its power, and its depth and beauty, as well as someone with a wonderful ability to meld research with storytelling, has created something which explores and reveals the importance of language and how it both creates and reflects cultural norms

The ’real’ story of the astonishing project of the OED is absolutely fascinating, and has also been told in other books. Many ‘amateurs’ as well as professional were engaged on the mining of words – and their literary sources. This last is important. Words had to have literary sources – an evidence base. This was not a vernacular. Although women were also involved in this word submission and word mining project, the majority of the contributors, both paid and unpaid, were older academic males (and, given the times, this also of course meant white males) Most of the literary sources cited were also from male writers.

From this, Williams weaves her story of the wonderful, invented Esme, whose equally fictitious father is one of the philologists working in the ‘Scriptorium’ the real place in the grounds of the residence of James Murray, editor of the project from the late 1870s. This book covers the period from 1887, where we first meet little Esme as a precocious 5-6 year old child, with an interest in language fostered by her father. It ends in 1989. 

Esme’s fascination with words, and the period of formative history covers, of course, the period of the rise of demands for universal suffrage, and the First World War. 

Subtly, Williams can explore, through Esme, a very resonant journey – whose language, whose history, whose culture. Esme begins to be absorbed by ‘lost’ words, often ‘forbidden’ words, the words of the streets, the language of the disenfranchised, often rich, salty, nuanced and full of vitality. And of course, women’s language is part of this.

Although there is much to savour for those of us who adore words and their origins, which Williams satisfyingly gives us, this is most definitely NOT a dry journey through research. Williams weaves all of the academic most satisfyingly together with the narrative magic of ‘tell me a story’

Despite the often overblown, overlong telling of this review, believe me, you won’t be saying ‘oh just get on with it’ as you read Pip Williams book. But, do read it slowly, as there is so very much to savour within it.

This is one of those books which simultaneously, I couldn’t bear to put down – but really needed to in order to fully taste the pleasure of its richness – but also, I couldn’t bear to finish it. Bereft! And envious of any of you about to embark on your own journey with the book

Deep thanks to the publishers Random House for allowing me access to this as an ARC via NetGalley. And of course, to Pip Williams, whom I hope is hard at work on another novel.  What a pleasure this has been
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I was attracted to the description of this book, but sadly it didn’t grip me and I struggled to get into it.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my review.
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‘Words define us, they explain us, and, on occasion, they serve to control or isolate us.’

An exceptionally moving story about one woman’s fight for words that were not considered ‘true’ in an academic sense. Set against the backdrop of the Suffragette movement and WW2, this delightful story follows Esme as she fights for her voice to be heard. She experiences immense hardship and trauma along the way, and I won’t deny that I had a few good cries over them. The fact that it is based on a real woman and her struggles makes it all the more poignant. Williams really brings her characters alive, so matter how big or small. I loved Tilda’s passion for women’s rights, her father’s love and devotion, and Lizzie’s unwavering loyalty to her mistress. Such a beautiful and moving read!
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The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

I was attracted to this book by the title and partially, by the beautiful cover. I love words and language and the blurb sounded intriguing. I expected a book about words and perhaps a woman's story interweaving with the words. What I got however, was so much more!
This book follows the life not only of Esme Nicoll but also of the Oxford English Dictionary. Esme's widowed father works at the dictionary and as a child she passes her days under the table there. While the men work she occasionally finds a lost or forgotten word, whose slip has fallen under the table into her possession. Her interest in these "lost words'' grows as she does and she starts to question which words are not included in the dictionary. 
As a young woman she herself works for the dictionary whilst also collecting her own words, those usually in common usage amongst the lower classes and particularly by women.
The story is set against the background of the fight for women's suffrage in Britain, then the First World War. It uses Esme and the dictionary to question what is important. Are words that have written evidence more important than those which do not? Is the language of Esme's sometime maid and longtime friend, Lizzie, less important because it's not written down?
The book also deals with Esme's life. As a young woman growing up in the late 18 and early 19 hundreds she faces certain societal expectations. When she fails to comply with many of these she encounters difficulties and often questions how she would define herself.
The book looks at women's roles in society, their campaign for the vote and the varying lots of women of different classes. It also addresses WWI and the impact of so many young men going off to war.
It's hard to classify this book  - it addresses academia, authority, equality, war, legacy and many other themes.
I expected to like it but I ended up loving it!

I received this ebook from Netgalley in return for an honest review.
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This is a very unusual but compelling read about fictional Esme, the daughter of a lexicographer based around real life characters from the time of compiling the first edition of the Oxford dictionary. Motherless Esme grew up in the Scriptorium where words were analysed for inclusion and as she grew so did her fascination with words, especially when she realised not all words made it into the dictionary in particular those used in speech as the Editor dictated that only quotes that could be referenced in print could be used.  Esme realised that most of the words not included were most often used by common people especially women and also that most of the references came from publications written by men, this fed her fascination with the words not included and her desire to preserve them. 

Esme was a fascinating character, she had quite a lot of freedom for a woman of her time and was acquainted with a few others in a similar position yet she was also very influenced by the maid who was the mother figure in her life and it made her question things all the more. I also liked references to events of the time especially how Esme felt about suffragettes and rights for women. Overall this really makes you think about life for women then and also how little their voices mattered but without the necessity of over emphasis which makes it all the more impactful.
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