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Lempriere's Dictionary: A Novel
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Lempriere's Dictionary: A Novel

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  747 ratings  ·  63 reviews
"An important and inspiring novel."
It is 18th-century London and John Lempriere, a young scholar, is writing a dictionary of classical mythology in an attempt to exorcise the demons raised by his father's violent and bizarre death. While tending to his father's business affairs, Lempriere discovers a 150-year old conspiracy that has kept his family
Paperback, 432 pages
Published August 31st 1993 by Ballantine Books (first published 1991)
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Warning: you must have the ability to suspend your disbelief, or better yet turn it off, put it in a box, bury it deep amid the amassed clutter of your long ago forgotten possessions that you had to have but now can't remember why you wanted them in the first place but can't convince yourself to get rid of them in the deep recesses of your attic, to finish reading this novel. Sentences of this misbegotten tale ramble on like so many oddly misdirected thoughts, yet do achieve a certain relevancy ...more
One of the most difficult-to-read novels I've ever picked up, I think it's because of a fault in myself and not that of the author. His prose is engaging, mysterious, anthropomorphic, obscure, beautiful, and thorough.

It's a mystery, of course, but what a mystery. Taken simply for its plot alone, this would be a fantastic novel. It spans generations, bodies of water, languages. From Paris brothels to Emperor's castles. It's just neat.

That said, I keep coming back to the language. Lest you think m
Vit Babenco
How to make ancient mythology come to pass? As it turns out there is a method but it is fabulously grotesque and ultimately bizarre and ridiculously murderous to boot.
“The elements gathered around him. His father rolling over, one arm held up to ward off dangers that had already passed and in his mind the same scene was unwinding like fine silver wire. The woman with her distorted face twisting away from the glistening downpour, the hiss of metal, the smell of it. These matters cohered in him. B
Andreas Payer
I always enjoy a book that makes me go to the dictionary a lot, and in addition to that, I wikipedia-ed many details from this historical fiction. To be engaged by a book outside the confines of the cover is what I always crave, but rarely get. I'm surprised to see so many negative reviews of it online and here on goodreads, reviews that mostly dwell on "difficult" and "long" and "pretentious". True on all accounts, but I don't see why a book can't be those and yet still be fun to read. I'm nowh ...more
Through the years, this book proved to be one of my all-time favourites. I do love the way it is written, complex, but not cpmplicated, and the way myth is entwined with reality. Similar to Thomas Manns Magic Mountain ...more
I rarely post reviews, but my reaction to this book was so negative that I feel compelled to warn others before they waste their time as I wasted mine. In fairness, I can't comment on the book as a whole, because I lost patience before I had read the first 100 pages. But what pages they were! I felt as though I were mired in quicksand. Norfolk's writing is bloated and dense to the point of nonsense, florid and contrived to the point of pretentiousness. Damn the friend who recommended this book!! ...more
The plotline is serpentine, confusing and I loved it. The characters are colorful, the story held my interest and the writing is entertaining and outrageous.Plenty of historical detail. I enjoyed it
In 18th century London, John Lempiere, is furiously researching and writing his dictionary of classical mythology. He is sure that the publication of his definitive study will challenge scholars and make his fortune. His father's brutal murder has made obtaining financial security overwhelmingly important. Papa's death has also brought to light an intriguing and terrifying connection between his family and the all powerful Dutch East India Company. Might John actually be entitled to half of that ...more
Apparently, "historical conspiracy suspense mystery" is a genre of its own. This book predates The Da Vinci Code by a dozen years, though, and aims for a more eclectic audience. It is erudite, witty, challenging, byzantine, and strange. Really, really strange.

The language is the attraction here. Some parts are a blast to read; but you'll want to keep a dictionary at hand. Norfolk does not aim to make his book easily readable. This doesn't just apply to the vocabulary, either. To understand all o
Normally I wouldn't appreciate it when a historical novel goes all steampunk on me right in the middle, but this novel has enough else going for it that I don't mind, and Norfolk could probably make a case for narrative necessity once he'd had a couple of pints. This book has exquisite depth, breadth, and coherence, though Norfolk sometimes goes very far afield to bring some of the depth and breadth, and he doesn't always bring his references to bear. If you haven't read a few hundred other book ...more
Horribly pretentious, badly written and utterly confusing book that I actually had a hard time reading all the long and tedious way to the end.
The story is interesting enough, but it's stuffed too much with pseudo-intellectual sounding passages that have no relevance to anything whatsoever. Norfolk doesn't write too complicated as such, maybe if he didn't find it so necessary to riddle his text with countless important-sounding and long words this would be a better read.
Nice try, but that's just
Dominique Dixon
I tried to read this book twice. And both times, I was throughly confused and a little upset that this book didn't really seem to have a plot. The person who wrote the back cover blurb deserves a medal, because he made it seem like this book would be awesome. Mythology, intrigue, and murder is always great. But when the guy goes to a pub in London and is involved in some weird pig worshipping drunkie club for NO APPARENT REASON, I gave up. Even when I was attempting to follow what Norfolk was wr ...more
Well I made it through nearly 100 pages (89, to be exact), and I just couldn't do it. Theoretically, judging by the book jacket, this should be an interesting book. Realistically it is nothing more than a self-satisfied upchuck of turgid prose. Perhaps this is a function of the main character, who I neither like nor have any interest in getting to know.
Odd. Parts of it are truly brilliant, other parts flounder. And a strange mix of high and low brow - intensely literary, but basically a mystery with a love story tacked on at the end. Includes possibly the best literary rendering of drunkenness and a weirdly moving love letter from algae.
I'm really trying but finding this a bit of a slog. I'm not sure if it's a matter of mood/"still getting over flu so brain not functioning" thing, or if it's just not my cup of tea.
Update: I gave up. And I feel all the better for it.
One of the back cover quotes uses the word "extravaganza" to describe this novel, and that's apt, to describe its ambitious conception, its set-piece scenes, and the tour-de-force paragraphs that go off like fireworks in its exuberant prose. It's a novel that belongs to the genre of... what? Historical, fantasy, supernatural? I'd call it a story of the occult. As if its gradual revelation of a centuries-long conspiracy wasn't enough, the author almost hits us over the head with metaphors of unde ...more
Irgendwie schon nach den ersten Seiten ein typischer Norfolk: prall, drall, barock überbordend, rappelvoll mit intelligenten und irren Einfällen ... und schon auf den ersten paar Dutzend Seiten immer wieder dieses Norfolk-Gefühl, dass entweder etwas weniger auch mal mehr wäre oder ich vielleicht doch zu doof bin, alles so zu goutieren wie es vielleicht gedacht ist. Dennoch, tolle Unterhaltung bisher. Auch wenn ich derzeit nicht viel mehr weiß, als dass der junge Lemprière etwas naiv, doch hochge ...more
Pfoeh, dat was een pittig boek om doorheen te komen. Sommige delen liepen als een trein, andere waren een ware worsteling. Dit laatste is vooral het geval bij de verwijzingen naar de Griekse mythologie, waarbij vooral veel namen voorbij komen, die je als leek niet zo veel verder brengen. Als je hierin echter goed thuis bent, zal het ongetwijfeld een meerwaarde geven aan het boek. Echter denk ik dat het grootste deel van de bevolking dit niet heeft en zal dit alleen maar als dikke stroop werken.

This was a difficult book, probably the most difficult to get through that I've ever actually finished. That being said, it was also fascinating, thrilling and ultimately rewarding. I kept both a general dictionary and a dictionary of classical mythology close at hand, and they were used often. Parts of it I had to read aloud, both for the beauty of the language and to aid my understanding--it helped to hear how the sentences were meant to flow. This was my second attempt to finish it (the first ...more
Sumomi (Privater Account)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I wanted to like this book. And I almost did. For much of the story it's exciting and engaging, almost intriguing, if a bit pretentious. But in the end it amounts to nothing. Big mysteries not really explained (while hundreds of pages went into their creation). Whole plot lines given short shrift. In the end I just wanted it to be over. And I did finish it, but almost wish I'd just abandoned the whole endeavor earlier on.
I loved this book in an Umberto Eco connects seemingly unassociated historical events, trivia with an ever twisting plot written in richly detailed language that for most of us requires a dictionary for clarity from time to time. It was a tough, long read, but i remember loving it. I recommended it to one friend whom I knew had the stamina and he found it unique and enjoyed it too, but, I admit now, probably nearly 20 years later I remember locations in England and France, feelings, but ...more
I really wanted to love this book, it has so many of the elements I usually find irresistible. A book figures prominently and maybe even meta fictionally. A sweeping period of historical time. Secret societies yielding an almost secret history. Intriguing characters. Fabulous voyages. And I can go on...

So why did I only like it? To my taste the writing was more obfuscatory than esthetically necessary and, equally perturbing to one who thinks he's well read, a plethora of references (both directl
There was a core of interesting stuff in this book, but that core was so covered with ornate sentences, rambling asides and lack of clarity that it was difficult to follow the narrative thread.

What I *think* this is about is that 200 (or so) years earlier, a group called the Cabbala decided to defraud the Anglo-India Company. An agreement between the Lemprieres and the de Veres siphoned part of this money off, and then the De Veres reneged, starting a 200-year search/revenge plot. I think. When
Nov 15, 2008 Pat rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
A convoluted historical fiction. I loved it the first time I read it. This time, I found it annoying. I amazingly made it past a thoroughly disgusting, long winded, pig roast/bacchanalia scene. At this point, I was not sure I want to continue. I skipped towards the end of the book. I know this book won a prize but I think it is overwritten, purposefully obscure and difficult, and discouraging.

I have read some of the reviews; many taking the blame for not being able to get through it. I am here
After we finished this book, we read online that the American edition is substantially different from the British edition. Apparently 20% of the text is removed or altered to make it less science-fictiony for the American audience. I wasn't totally surprised to learn this because there are some big details left unexplained at the end. It was sort of an unsatisfying ending.

Also, we stretched the reading of this book across the whole summer and I had trouble keeping track of the details. That my o
This book was recommended by a friend. Set in 18th Century London, the protagonist sets about writing a dictionary of mythology after his father is brutally killed by his neighbor’s hounds. In so doing he uncovers a conspiracy that cheated his family of wealth and leads to more deceit and murder. I found the conceit imaginative and the historical perspective on the 18th century interesting, but for a mystery, the plot was a bit too convoluted and didn’t always move as quickly or directly as I wo ...more
This 1991 prize-winning novel Lemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk has as its background John Lemprière's writing of his dictionary (Bibliotheca Classica" or "Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors", (Reading,1788)), as well as the places the Lemprière family came from. The main character is John Lemprière, author of the Classical Dictionary, and also his father, Charles Lemprière. The rest of the story is "apparently" fiction. A ...more
Lempriere's Dictionary is a tour-de-force kind of book, but unfortunately it progresses on the course of that tour from one kind of book to another. It starts out very impressionistic, and ends up very plot-driven, and along the way I had a hard time settling in and figuring it out. Norfolk also introduces a lot of strange ideas, many of which never truly get explained or resolved. At the end of the day it was yet another moderately interesting way to pass the time on my commute, but not somethi ...more
Kathy Lyons
This book was fun to read but it was really bizarre.
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Lawrence Norfolk (born 1963) is a British novelist known for historical works with complex plots and intricate detail. His novels are also known for their unusually large vocabulary.

He was born in London but lived in Iraq until 1967 and then in the West Country of England. He read English at King's College London and graduated in 1986. He worked briefly as a teacher and later as a freelance writer
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