The Liar's Dictionary

The Liar's Dictionary

Book - 2021
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"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."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2021
Copyright Date: ©2020
ISBN: 9780735281493
Branch Call Number: WIL
Characteristics: 270 pages ; 22 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 19, 2021

The author is intoxicated with words. Repetition of words for the sheer sound of them; plays on words (pelican and Pelikan ink, for instance). Onomatopoeia and obscure words that you don't want to interrupt the novel's flow to go look up. 26 chapters, lettered A to Z with headnote words, some real, e.g. Chapter J's "jerque" or made up, e.g. Chapter E's "esquivalience". The setting is Swansby House in London, the office of "Swansby's New Encyclopaedic Dictionary". The chapters alternate between 1899 and the present day. Today, the office holds only 3: David Swansby, his yellow cat Tits (short for Titivillus, a demon who is responsible for inserting mistakes into texts), and intern Mallory. Her chapters are told in the first person. In 1899, the offices are crammed with characters, headed by Gerolf Swansby, a clowder of mousers, and, among many employees, the lexicographer Winceworth. His chapters are in the third person. Mountweazels (fictitious entries): Winceworth creates them as a way to assert himself; Mallory is assigned to ferret them out.

In Chapter E ("esquivalience"), we meet Mallory's love interest Pip but since Mallory's not out, she's introduced to David Swansby as Mallory's flatmate. In Chapter H ("humbug"), at brash Frasham's birthday party we meet Sophia whom Winceworth instantly falls in love with, only to discover that she's Frasham's bride-to-be.

The second half of the book concerns itself with both Mallory and Winceworth freeing themselves from their self-imposed cages. In each case clarity comes from anger at intentionally being put in harm's way which each narrowly escapes unscathed but with new insight.

Apr 12, 2021

Some writers write stories, and some writers are too busy being clever and alienate their readers. Four pages into the "Preface" I realised which kind of writer wrote this book. I skimmed to see if it would get better, and after counting 5 or 6 instances of repeating the same word three times in a row for no apparent reason "Sit sit sit" and altogether too many mentions of the "tit cats", I decided this book and I were never going to be friends. I can count on two hands the number of fiction books I have started and hated enough to put down in my life, and this is now one of them. However, if you are a word lover and generally much smarter than the rest of us, you will likely enjoy.

Apr 06, 2021

I delighted in this book! Clever, engaging, funny and altogether what I was hoping for.

Mar 26, 2021

The Liar’s Dictionary really should be a book I love; sadly, I just sorta liked it. The story is simple enough, as it follows two parallel plots - one set in the present, the other at the turn of the twentieth century - and both tales absolutely dote upon words and lexicographical wonders. In the present, our protagonist is Mallory, a young intern at the largely failed Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary, who as a young 20-something is struggling with her professional and sexual identities. She is tasked with uncovering fake words that a past contributor has placed throughout the dictionary. Meanwhile, In 1899, we are introduced to Winceworth, a lowly employee at Swnasby’s, who fakes a lisp at the office, and has an extremely hard time fitting in, and, you guessed it, is the cause of the fallacious lexical additions. Both narratives proceed with entertaining witty word play and idle thought, but ultimately fail to go anywhere.

Over the course of my read I came to enjoy one story much more than the other, and consequently grew a bit bored with the chore of getting through the lesser story. While the work is skillfully written, with beautiful wordplay throughout, in the end the tale fizzled out and went nowhere, much like my hopes for this book. Yet, the author impressed me enough to look forward whatever their next book might be.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Mar 02, 2021

I loved the humor in this novel about a failed dictionary and a modern day editorial intern looking for rogue mountweazels (fake words) in the original edition planted by the lovable weirdo who is the point of view character in the early 20th century plot line.

Jan 24, 2021

I was really looking forward to this book, based on the reviews I had read. It features two characters who are involved in working on an encyclopeadic dictionary about 100 years apart. The author clearly loves words, as do I, but I gave up on the book about a third of the way through. My problem was I really did not like either of the protagonists. Maybe I would have grown to love them - or least to have found them interesting - if I had kept going. But, I am past the point in my life where I want to keep going in a book I find a slog, so it just didn't work for me.

Jan 18, 2021

Perhaps it’s best to indulge in psychotropics when reading this book. Better yet, don’t bother.

Jan 05, 2021

I love words. I grew up with a dictionary next to the table where we ate our meals, so this book was written for me. Based on the premise that a multi-volume dictionary written in the 1930’s was to be digitized with no update with new words, Mallory, who is the only employee of the dictionary’s London office. It is also the story of Winceworth, who lived 100 years ago and was in charge of the “S” section of the dictionary. It took me a while to figure out that the two narrators were living in different times. Winceworth, to stave off boredom, created made up words or mountweazels. As Mallory reads the dictionary in preparation for digitizing, she begins to sense Winceworth’s personality in the words he has made up. The characters are important in the story, but first and foremost it’s the exploration of language, words and meanings that take center stage. And while, I enjoyed the book, I found myself counting the number of pages until the end.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at BPL

To Top