Book Review: The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams

This was my first meeting with Eley Williams, the punchy Brit whose The Liar’s Dictionary, found its way onto my shelf this past week. By punchy I mean in the way Mayweather punches, not the way Tyson does. Crafty, clever, bearable even in its most baron bits. It put Eley Williams on my list of folks I’d like to have a beverage with.

The main character, Mallory, works at a London-based, multivolume encyclopaedic dictionary publisher that is in a clearly advanced stage of decay. Additionally, Peter Winceworth, an employee of the same publisher has gone about, in a fit of revenge, integrating “mountweazels” to the dictionary's first edition of the nineteen-hundreds, thus marking himself somewhere in history. The lives of the two intertwine when Mallory is tasked with finding these mount-weasels in all previous editions on account of the digitization and thus finalization of the previously, notoriously, unfinished dictionary.

The book doesn’t come without modernity. Mallory is a lesbian woman who chooses to not disclose this fact to others. Her outward play on this choice, as the workplace is concerned, is that she is afraid her boss will not approve. Mallory, late-twenties, has not come out to her own parents, and in one particular scene, refers to her partner, Pip, as her “suite-mate” right in front of Pip herself. There is, from someone like me who knows nothing of that process, an understanding that can be gained. A character (person) carries within them a significant part of themselves “unofficially,” and is unsure why it needs to be official at all.

The main thing to understand about Peter Winceworth is that he carries himself well enough to not get bullied, most of the time. When people do get to him though, it is severe. Peter Winceworth, the character, is no straw man, however, as his undeniable ability to do things secretly makes him a force to be reckoned with. The character recalls for me somebody I would pass the buck to, rather than choose as a sparring partner.

The book is funny in a way that tells me the person who wrote it is sneakily personable. It’s charming in a way that is more pianist than politician. It’s got soul and head knowledge. It’s not preachy, it’s not self-indulgent. It’s a novel that will hold up through the cold.

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