One silver lining of the Covid-era (for me, at least) has been the abundance of online book events. I first encountered Pip Williams on a Facebook Live event hosted by Dymocks, and was fascinated by the history underpinning The Dictionary of Lost Words.
I have always been a word nerd, with a preference for puns and a sucker for Scrabble. Surprisingly, I was not familiar with the origins of the first Oxford Dictionary. (I’ve added The Surgeon of Crowthorne, aka The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester to my gargantuan ‘to-be-read’ pile…) Williams’ fictional account considers the role of gender and class in deciding what comprised the English language in the late 1800s. The creation of the Dictionary was an early form of crowd sourcing, with the public invited to provide examples of words in a variety of contexts to be considered for inclusion. However, the team of editors was predominately well-educated, white men. Consequently, many expressions and nuances of meaning were not included, begging the question ‘was it possible to truly capture the English language in the Oxford Dictionary’? In today’s society, there appears to be a greater understanding and/or appreciation that language is dynamic and culture-specific, with attempts to capture idiosyncrasies and slang in editions such as the Macquarie Dictionary and even the Urban Dictionary.
The politically-charged backdrop of the story resonates today, with organised campaigns and rallies to protest against the status quo. However, rather than protesting for racial equality, this story provides an insight to the efforts of women in their struggle for the right to vote.
At its core, however, this is a story about love. If ever there was a word in the English language that seemed inadequate, this would be it. This is a story about the love between a father and daughter, the love of friendship, the love of words, the love of independence, the contrast between love and desire, the love of the sisterhood, romantic love, and the love of soulmates.
Yes, I loved this book. Highly recommended for word nerds and historical fiction fanatics.
Please find here an assorted mix of what I tend to read - new books, old books, birthday gifts, gifts to myself, books from my to-be-read pile, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs - basically a weird assortment of goodies! My comments here are simply thought-bubbles, rather than formal book reviews. Stream of consciousness. Please share your comments and connect. I love a reading community!