A Comic Novel, a Mystery, a Love Story, a Melodrama — All About Words


THE LIAR’S DICTIONARY
By Eley Williams

You wouldn’t count on a comic book novel a few dictionary to be a thriller too, however this one is. In truth, Eley Williams’s hilarious new e-book, “The Liar’s Dictionary,” can be a thriller, love story (two of them) and cliffhanging melodrama.

The dual protagonists are separated by greater than a century. Mallory and Peter work at Swansby Home in London, residence of Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, she within the current and he in 1899. What steadily weaves their alternating tales collectively is the curious energy of phrases, each actual and imagined.

Because the novel opens, Mallory is the corporate’s solely remaining worker, a bored intern whose sole activity is to reply the cellphone. It’s not a lot of a job, because the cellphone rings simply as soon as a day (with a cryptic bomb risk). She passes her time studying the dictionary, a dusty behemoth that for all sensible functions is lifeless. Work on it was deserted round World Warfare I, far wanting the letter Z, and it exists solely in an incomplete nine-volume version printed within the Thirties. The corporate is saved alive by the persistence of its proprietor and editor in chief, David Swansby, who rents out a lot of the elegant Queen Anne constructing for occasions.

In the meantime, again within the nineteenth century, Peter can be numbingly bored at Swansby’s, the place he’s one in every of greater than 100 lexicographers toiling at what he considers “a pointless census of language.” However he has a few secret amusements. One is a faux lisp, which he cultivates for sympathy (it bought him his job). The opposite is a furtive expertise for making up phrases, like “abantina (n.),” outlined as “fickleness,” and “agrupt (adj.),” in regards to the “irritation attributable to having a denouement ruined.” They’re his “secret, foolish phrases,” his “cuckoos-in-the-nest.”

The cuckoos have now come residence to roost. David Swansby, who needs to replace and digitize the dictionary, discovers two faux entries and asks Mallory to root out any others. Earlier than lengthy, she’s amassed piles of suspicious-looking blue index playing cards from the corporate’s archives, written in the same hand. Fascinated, she tries to think about the creator of those “small candy observations, inconsequentialisms.” Ought to she expose them, or let sleeping canine lie? (Interpret “lie” nonetheless you would like.)

Williams, a British author who can be the creator of the story assortment “Attrib.,” ingeniously hyperlinks these parallel narratives. Peter wakes one morning with a pounding head after an evening of consuming and wonders why there’s no phrase for his situation. Later, Mallory displays on the various trendy phrases that by no means made it into Swansby’s, just like the bibulous sense of “hangover.”

Their love lives are ambivalent, every in its personal method. Peter, who’s excruciatingly shy, is enthusiastic about a colleague’s fiancée. Mallory is homosexual although not fairly out, whereas her lover, Pip, is “out-and-out out.” When Mallory ruminates on all of the phrases we don’t have — like one for the kindness of people that attempt to free trapped bugs — Pip asks, “What a few phrase for not being out?” (Peter, within the meantime, struggles to launch a moth from his railway carriage.)

“The Liar’s Dictionary” is a raucous orgy of phrases. Williams juggles them, performs tunes with them, tries them on and takes them off, tastes them and spits them out. All of the whereas, she’s utilizing them to border a considerate inquiry into fact and that means. And her denouements are so satisfying that it might be agrupt to spoil them.



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