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The Liar's Dictionary
*Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2021*
An exhilarating and laugh-out-loud debut novel from a prize-winning new talent that 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.
“An audacious, idiosyncratic dual love story about how language and people intersect and connect, and about how far we’ll go to save what we’re passionate about.”—NPR
Mountweazel n. the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.
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.
“Plot is not why a reader should come to The Liar’s Dictionary. One approaches it instead for highly charged neurotic situations and for Williams’s adept word-geekery. Her esotericism is always on cheerful display.”
—The New York Times
Pages: 288 pages