by Pip Williams
Publication date: April 6, 2021
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Hardcover: 400 Pages
Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, an Oxford garden shed in which her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip and, learning that the word means “slave girl,” begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.
As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.
Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.
About the author
Pip Williams was born in London, grew up in Sydney, and now lives in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia with her family and an assortment of animals. She has spent most of her working life as a social researcher, studying what keeps us well and what helps us thrive, and she is the author of One Italian Summer, a memoir of her family’s travels in search of the good life, which was published in Australia to wide acclaim.
Read more about Pip ON HER WEBSITE
“A lexicographer’s dream of a novel, this is a lovely book to get lost in, an imaginative love letter to dictionaries.”—Booklist
“Enchanting, sorrowful, and wonderfully written, the book is a one-of-a-kind celebration of language and its importance in our lives. A must-have.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“In Williams’s exuberant, meticulously researched debut, the daughter of a lexicographer devotes her life to an alternative dictionary. . . . Williams’s feminist take on language will move readers.”—Publishers Weekly
“Williams turns history as we know it on its head in this delightful debut, spotlighting those women and their contributions, using the awe-inspiring power of words themselves to illuminate them.”—Newsweek
“[A] masterfully written, beautiful first novel that tells a fascinating story of language, love and loss.”—Historical Novel Society
“The novel you’ve been waiting for without even realizing it . . . Williams will convince you of a word’s importance in a most lovely and charismatic story.”—Bookreporter