Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Lemprière's Dictionary” as Want to Read:
Lemprière's Dictionary
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Lemprière's Dictionary

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  829 Ratings  ·  67 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
Hardcover, 626 pages
Published September 8th 1992 by Harmony Books (first published 1991)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Lemprière's Dictionary, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Lemprière's Dictionary

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
Stories For Book Lovers
320th out of 1,160 books — 3,103 voters
Lemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence NorfolkThe Pope's Rhinoceros by Lawrence Norfolk
Best Lawrence Norfolk Books
1st out of 2 books — 3 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,146)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Dec 05, 2007 Lin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 24, 2008 Adam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 20, 2015 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 11, 2009 Andreas Payer rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 08, 2009 Martin rated it did not like it
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
Mar 25, 2009 Taylor rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2016 Ksenya rated it really liked it
Shelves: british, 2016
I did it!)
Jan 29, 2011 Felice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 19, 2010 Randal rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 07, 2009 Miriam rated it did not like it
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
Aug 26, 2013 Dominique rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished, shit-lit
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
Elena T.
Lawrence Norfolk, inglese, è uno scrittore versatile e multisfaccettato. Già nel suo ultimo romanzo "La grande festa di John Saturnall", se ne ammira la sapiente consapevolezza storica basata su una ricerca costante degli aneddoti del periodo trattato, da donare al contesto un elemento di veridicità unica.

Non poteva essere più lungimirante se già aveva adottato questa tattica di ricerca assidua nel suo primo lavoro, questo romanzo intitolato "La mirabolante avventura di John Lemprière, erudito n
Feb 10, 2009 Alicia rated it did not like it
Shelves: i-quit
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.
Sep 21, 2014 Jessica rated it liked it
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.
Jan 16, 2008 Holly rated it did not like it
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.
May 12, 2016 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book years and years and years ago and remembered really enjoying it, so I decided to revisit it. This was a mistake. There are some fun ideas in here, and I can kind of see what Norfolk is trying to do with the whole strange literary/historical/fantastical thing, but this book is a total mess. The tone veers wildly from florid pretentiousness to casual jokiness, the characters are all over the place, the plot is all over place, and all the things I remembered loving about the ...more
May 28, 2011 Vasha7 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 16, 2014 Cubisticanus rated it really liked it
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
Feb 12, 2012 Boa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 21, 2014 Jeneen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 19, 2013 Shana rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2014 Peter rated it liked it
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
Jan 03, 2015 Laura rated it did not like it
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 it was ok
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
Sep 11, 2012 Cari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 71 72 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Unburied
  • Morbus Kitahara
  • Ex-Libris
  • Szafa
  • The Brothers
  • You Gotta Have Balls: A Novel
  • The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, or Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
  • Chromos
  • Ingenious Pain
  • Lulu on the Bridge
  • The Forest Of Hours
  • The Fan-Maker's Inquisition: A Novel of the Marquis de Sade
  • Young Henry of Navarre
  • Grace
  • Ulverton
  • The Games of Night (Quartet Encounters)
  • The Nightwatchman's Occurrence Book: And Other Comic Inventions
  • A River Town
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
More about Lawrence Norfolk...

Share This Book