The Liar’s Dictionary is a novel about language, definitions, and the lives of two characters connected by the same dictionary. In 1899, Peter Winceworth is working on ‘S’ for Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, feeling ignored and intrigued by the possibility of inventing words to suit the experiences and feelings he wants to express. And in the present day, Mallory works as an intern and the only employee other than the owner of Swansby’s, where she fields anonymous threatening phone calls every day. When she’s tasked with hunting down all of the fictitious entries in the dictionary before its digital publication, her and her girlfriend end up drawn into the world of fake definitions, and the phone calls keep coming.
This is a charming novel with chapters named for words in alphabetic order and alternating between each narrative. It draws you into the lives of the two protagonists, both overwhelmed and a bit unsure with things in their lives, but brought together by the dictionary and by Peter’s fictitious entries, known as ‘mountweazels’. Language and definitions and how we use words are celebrated in the novel, but the style remains readable and unpretentious, thinking about the excitement and creativity of finding words for things or giving unnamed things names. Both characters’ narratives are satisfying and gripping, with neat flourishes and endearing moments, but also chances to define things in their lives and take control of their futures.
Book and word lovers will undoubtedly enjoy this novel, but so will people looking for endearing characters and quirky narratives. It is a fun reading experience that makes you care for the characters, but also plays around with language and definitions and the need for people to trust.