The Liar’s Dictionary: Lacking definition

Eley Williams’s novel about a mischievous lexicographer does not live up to its potential

Eley Williams. Photograph: Sophie Davidson

Eley Williams. Photograph: Sophie Davidson

In the beginning was the word, and the lexicographer searched for the etymology of the word. For those who begin to find the component words as fascinating as the information they combine to form, there are dictionaries and the opportunity they afford to trace the formation of each word (from Proto-Germanic wurda- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian word, Dutch woord, Old High German, German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd).

This obsession with the origins of language is central to Eley Williams’s first novel and becomes, for protagonist Peter Winceworth, a mechanism not only to locate accurate meanings for the dictionary he is helping to create but also to discover an opportunity to create new words for those aspects of life that lack precise definition. In The Liar’s Dictionary, there is, of course, a name for the creation of such words: “Mountweazels.”

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