Claire's Reviews > The Dictionary of Lost Words

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
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bookshelves: fiction, british-literature, australian-literature

A novel about words both entices and because of its popularity made me hesitate.

And so I dive in and find myself often using the dictionary feature on the kindle - yes there are a lot of lost words, or words that are no longer in common use, and one of the main words, and locations, the scriptorium had me confused right from the start - a tin shed where men are compiling the first edition of the Oxford dictionary? Even as I write these words, the spellcheck has underlined that word in red.

We are introduced to this place and the main character Esme as she is crawling around beneath the table in this scriptorium, we don't understand a lot about why she is there, as her father appears to be raising her alone without childcare. It is the late 1880's, an era of slow progress, both on the dictionary and on the rights of women.

Esme grows up and begins to work with her father, collecting "slips" and the necessary quotations, that give words the right to be part of this grand dictionary. The problem being that much of a women's world is left out, words that have existed often for centuries, but have either not been written in any notable works or are deemed not appropriate for polite society.

Esme has found her calling.

It's an interesting journey through a particular period of history, though I found the character of Esme to be a little two-dimensional compared to some of the secondary characters and one of the characters appears mostly through letters, which rather than illuminate some of the mysteries in Esme's life, just had me asking why this one character if she was so important to her life, wasn't present. The story seemed to lose pace towards the end or perhaps just went on too long, as I began to lose interest.
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Reading Progress

September 9, 2021 – Shelved as: to-read
September 9, 2021 – Shelved
September 10, 2021 – Started Reading
September 10, 2021 –
September 11, 2021 –
27.0% "It is the ate 1880's, Oxford, in a shed referred to as the Scriptorium a few learned, self-important men and their assistants compile words to create the dictionary, an activity that takes years. The words must have a textual source, must have been written down, deemed acceptable, associated with an esteemed quotation.
Esme, raised by her Da, grows up in this environment, rescues lost words becomes an assistant."
September 13, 2021 –
40.0% "A slow build up in the early years, the pace picks up when Esme begins to go to town and meet a few unconventional women and hears a few ancient popular but unknown words, and when she meets Tilda, actro and suffragette her vocabularly widens even further.
A slow consciousness raising and cast of characters across class divine in Oxford, the controlled compilation of the Dictionary at the centre of it."
September 15, 2021 –
67.0% "Now in her 30's her like of words pertaining to women and the poor discovered by the villainous Dankworth, as the slips flitter to the floor, who should arrive but Gareth the compositeur. She ponders the words "manhandled, Pillock and git"

The suffragettes on hunger strike are being force fed."
September 16, 2021 – Finished Reading
September 25, 2021 – Shelved as: fiction
September 25, 2021 – Shelved as: british-literature
September 25, 2021 – Shelved as: australian-literature

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