The Liar’s Dictionary chronicles the misadventures of a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer and the young woman put on his trail a century later to root out his misdeeds while confronting questions of her own sexuality and place in the world.
Peter Winceworth, Victorian lexicographer, is toiling away at the letter S for Swansby’s multivolume Encyclopaedic Dictionary. His disaffection compels him to insert unauthorized fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some sense of individual purpose and artistic freedom.
In the present day, Mallory, a young intern employed by the publisher, is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels before the work is digitized. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Is the change in the definition of marriage really that upsetting? And does the caller really intend for the Swansby’s staff to ‘burn in hell’?
As these two narratives combine, both Winceworth and Mallory discover how they might negotiate the complexities of the often nonsensical, relentless, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn, and undefinable path we call life. An exhilarating debut novel from a formidably brilliant young writer, The Liar’s Dictionary celebrates the rigidity, fragility, absurdity, and joy of language.
“The Liar’s Dictionary is the book I was longing for. So eudaemonical, so felicific and habile! A harlequinade of cachinnation! It's hilarious and smart and charming and I loved it. Read it. It’s the book you’re longing for.” —Andrew Sean Greer, 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for Less
“An improbably enchanting, rollicking novel about two generations of put-upon London lexicographers, The Liar’s Dictionary is positively intoxicated with the joy and wonder of language, both authentic and, often hilariously, counterfeit, and I can assure you that it's quite the contact high. Eley Williams brings erudition and playfulness—and lovely sweetness—to every page.” —Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer's English
“A virtuoso performance full of charm. . . . It’s simultaneously a love story, an office comedy, a sleuth mystery and a slice of gaslit late Victoriana. . . . The Liar’s Dictionary is a glorious novel—a perfectly crafted investigation of our ability to define words and their power to define us.” —The Guardian
“Perfectly calibrated. . . . For a novel as finely tuned as this, to leave one with a sense of the intoxicating hopefulness of chance is its greatest achievement in a competitive field.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“Comically inventine. . . . 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.” —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
“A remarkable novel. . . . Original and often very funny, The Liar’s Dictionary is an offbeat exploration of both the delights of language and its limitations.” —Sunday Times (UK)