13 Sept 2022. We met to discuss the book, The Liar’s Dictionary, by Eley Williams, a young British professor and writer who grew up in a family immersed in words and dictionaries.
While not everyone enjoyed the book as a whole, it was the consensus that dictionaries must be fluid in nature, as words change in meaning over time. Also, imbedded in the story was the existence of mountweasels, or false words, as well as many metaphors, hyperboles, puns, turns of phrase. This made for a clever and fun read.
Our book took place over a century in the fictitious Swansby’s Encycolpedic Dictionary of Words. The thread in the story in the late nineteenth century was told through the eyes of Mr. Winceworth, a man who began inserting the false words as a manner of leaving his mark. He was not a part of the group of colleagues, feeling as if he did not fit. One hundred years later was Mallory, the single assistant to the present Mr. Swansby, who was trying to get his Encyclopedic Dictionary digitized. Mallory’s partner Pip took it upon herself to
discover which were the mountweasels, in order to stay in Mallory’s proximity after an anonymous threatening caller. Therein came the discussion of how words had changed their meanings in the ensuing century. The tie between Mr. Winceworth and Mallory was actually secondary to the extensive word play throughout, providing a bit of history on how dictionaries evolve. Definitely a good read for those who love language, however less so for lovers of a solid story line.
Reviews of the Book
‘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 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
‘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 playful delight… A glorious novel’ – OBSERVER
From the Back Cover
A winner of the 2021 Betty Trask Awards, it was shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.
Here’s a little information about the book: OBSERVER Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary is riddled with fictitious entries known as mountweazels penned by Peter Winceworth, a man wishing to make his lasting mark back in 1899. It’s up to young intern Mallory to uncover these mountweazels before the dictionary can be digitised for modern readers. Lost in Winceworth’s imagination – a world full of meaningless words – will Mallory finally discover the secret to living a meaningful life?