The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams is Absolutely Extraordinary

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams is Absolutely Extraordinary

While I was still reading The Dictionary of Lost Words, I tried to explain the story to a friend. I started to cry – I can’t remember a novel so original, so perfectly executed, so wonderful that the very act of describing it brought me to tears.

In 1901, the word bondmaid was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.

Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word bondmaid flutter to the floor unclaimed. Esme seizes the word and hides it in an old wooden trunk that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Lizzie herself adds to it: “Bonded for life by love, devotion or obligation. I’ve been a bondmaid to you since you were small, Essymay, and I’ve been glad for every day of it”.

Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

This is a fictional story threaded into the real events around the creation of the Oxford Dictionary. All the lexicographers, editors and supporters of the dictionary were men, so it’s no surprise that the finished dictionary was biased towards the experience of men. Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men.

Meticulously researched and exquisitely written, Pip Williams has delivered one of the most remarkable debuts I’ve ever read. There was a lot of hype around this novel: it was the hottest title at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair so I approached reading it with caution. That lasted about a page. I was quickly swept up into this delicious, clever, deeply moving read. Esme is a brilliant character, intelligent, thoughtful and wise, fighting to give women’s words their proper place in the English language.

This is a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape our experience of the world. I could go on and on, but I’ll cry again. Suffice to say, The Dictionary of Lost Words is extraordinary.

 

 

.

Reviews

Everyone is Talking about The Dictionary of Lost Words By Pip Williams. Here, Pip Has Her Say

Review | Author Related

11 May 2020

Everyone is Talking about The Dictionary of Lost Words By Pip Williams. Here, Pip Has Her Say

    A Thought-Provoking Celebration of Words: Take a Sneak Peek at The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

    Review | Extract

    5 May 2020

    A Thought-Provoking Celebration of Words: Take a Sneak Peek at The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

      Related Articles

      Podcast: Pip Williams on how Dyslexia shaped her love of storytelling

      Podcast

      18 May 2020

      Podcast: Pip Williams on how Dyslexia shaped her love of storytelling

        Synopsis

        Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word bondmaid flutter to the floor unclaimed. Esme seizes the word and hides it in an old wooden trunk that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape our experience of the world.
        Pip WIlliams
        About the author

        Pip WIlliams

        Pip Williams was born in London and grew up in Sydney. She has spent most of her working life as a social researcher and is co-author of the book Time Bomb: Work, Rest and Play in Australia Today (NewSouth Press, 2012). Her creative non-fiction has been published in InDaily and The Australian and produced for Radio Northern Beaches, and she is very proud of a poem she published in Dolly magazine when she was fifteen years old.Pip Williams lives in the Adelaide Hills with her partner, two boys and an assortment of animals.

        Books by Pip WIlliams

        COMMENTS

        Leave a Reply

        Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *