• Title: The Dictionary of Lost Words
  • Author: Pip Williams
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books on April 6, 2021
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Pages: 371
  • Formats Available: Hardback, Audio, & Digital
  • Rating: 5/5

Trigger Warnings: Talk of War Scenarios, Depression, PTSD

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of The Dictionary of Lost Words with a request for an honest review.

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The Dictionary of Lost Words Blurb

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where 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 when she learns that the word means “slave girl,” she 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.

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My Review

A love of history and words is what drew me to The Dictionary of Lost Words. Pip Williams weaves both into a novel that had my heart fluttering throughout. Esme’s journey is one that captivated me.

Victorian England is an era that I hold dear. From reading about this time all my life, I have a romanticized view that isn’t quite realistic. Fiction does a good job of hiding unpleasantness at any time. Williams brings the disagreeable nature of the patriarchy to light.

By following Esme from a small child into adulthood, we get to know her and those who love her. Essy seems to possess low self-esteem, despite the love that surrounds her. Yet, she is also one of the strongest characters I have read in quite some time.

I adore that Williams included so many women from different walks of life in the book. Her research is impeccable, and she moves words in and out of true accounts like butter. The prose is intelligent and makes you think. 

I am happy to award The Dictionary of Lost Words a full 5 out of 5 stars. This book is a true gift to those of us who cherish words. If you get the chance to read this novel, you should.

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3 Comments

  1. Such a wonderful review! I am desperate to read this one and I have wanted to ever since I first saw it around (I think it was last month it first appeared on my radar). Ever since then I have seen nothing but good things about it. I am so glad you liked it and that it lived up to all your expectations!

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