An exhilarating, clever, funny debut novel from a prize-winning talent, chronicling the misadventures of a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer and the young woman who decodes his trail of made-up words a century later. Will enthrall readers of CS Richardson, Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
Mountweazel n. the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.
Peter Winceworth is a lexicographer in Victorian-era London, toiling away at the letter "S" for a multi-volume Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Secretly, he begins to insert unauthorized fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some artistic freedom.
In the present day, Mallory is a young intern employed by the same publisher. Her task is to uncover these mountweazels before the dictionary is digitized. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Why, she wonders, is the change in the definition of "marriage" so upsetting to the caller? And does the caller really intend for the publisher's staff to "burn in hell"?
As these two narratives, characters and times entwine, both Winceworth and Mallory discover how they might negotiate the complexities of the nonsensical, relentless, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn and undefinable path we call life. An exhilarating debut from a formidably brilliant young writer, The Liar's Dictionary celebrates the rigidity, fragility, absurdity and joy of language.
In Williams's comically inventive debut novel (after the collection Attrib.), a woman must ferret out the falsities intentionally embedded in a dictionary. Mallory, the sole employee of David Swansby at Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, spends her days fielding angry, elliptical bomb threats from an unidentified crackpot. Then, one day, Swansby gives her a special assignment to find all the mountweazels placed in his family's dictionary over the years. (A mountweazel is a fake word placed in reference works to protect against copyright infringement.) Williams flashes back to 1899, when Swansby's is a bustling enterprise that employs many lexicographers, among them Peter Winceworth, who loves to dream up mountweazels ("relectoblivious (adj.), accidentally rereading a phrase or line due to lack of focus or desire to finish"). Mallory and her lover, Pip, search for these fake words and try to ascertain the identity of the anonymous mountweazeler, while in a parallel narrative Winceworth falls frustratingly in love with a fellow lexicographer's fianc e, leading to two surprising and emotionally satisfying conclusions. 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.