The Dictionary of Lost Words
Affirm Press 2020
“Few words have as many variants as love” Pg 332. I love this book.
Set in the era of the Women’s Suffrage Movement (late 1800s to early 1900s) and World War One, the reader follows the life of a curious girl named Esme. Motherless and emotionally bonded to the scriptorium where her father works, Esme develops a fascination for words and their meanings. It is here that Esme’s father along with other men record words and their definitions for the first edition of The Oxford English Dictionary.
As Esme grows in age and knowledge, she begins to discover that not all words are created equal and there is a significant gap in the representation of women’s words. It becomes her secret mission to collect these unwritten and invalidated words with a developing understanding that they are just as valuable as those recorded in the dictionary- as are the people who use them.
This book evoked within me an array of emotions, beginning with intrigue as to how a young girls’ fascination for words could be woven into such a strong story. There was surprise that it wasn’t until midway through the book before I realised that it was a tale about women’s rights. Sorrow rendered me close to tears as Williams wrote so eloquently about loss. And then there was envy towards Williams’ ability to tell a unique story in such a captivating way.
The Dictionary of Lost Words is a fictional story set in true history. Many of the characters were real people who indeed did contribute to The Oxford English Dictionary, however, the fictional Esme allowed Pip Williams to bring to light her concern at the unjustness of a dictionary over-represented by males. This is Williams’ debut novel, and what an incredible story it is.
What's this about?
As a lover of books and a teacher, I read widely. Here you will find book reviews of many genres including picture story, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, women's fiction, short story anthologies, non-fiction and anything else that takes my fancy.