Book Review: The Dictionary of Lost Words
By Alexis Mercer
It had been so long since we had a Book Club meeting that none of us could remember who chose the last read. Someone threw my name out there, and while sometimes that task is a difficult one, I had just chosen a book for myself that I had yet to start, so the timing was perfect.
The book had been a suggestion on Amazon if I recall. I was in looking for a “Rubber Dockie” floating pad to buy for my son’s birthday party and up popped the book suggestion. It’s rather like going into Target. I can’t help but come out with 19 things I wasn’t even looking for once I am in.
Really not knowing what to expect, I dove in head first to The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. While the first third was a little bit slow, it was intriguing and left me wanting to know how the life of the main character Esme was going to turn out. By the halfway point I was fully invested.
Esme grew up with her father only after having lost her mother very early on in life. They both spend most of their time in the Scriptorium, a small shack like building where the men work on collecting words, definitions and usages for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Esme is permitted to spend her time under the table when very young, and here she learns of her curiosity for words and how they are used, or more specifically not used, by the men who decide how to put them in the book.
As Esme grows older, she becomes aware of an entire category of words that are not included at all: those most frequently used by women of all classes. Set during the time of women’s suffrage and building up to the war, Williams brilliantly spins true historical events and the essence of the war women, as well as male suffrangents, fought to earn even a modicum of equality.
Rich in language, thought-provoking and shockingly relevant to current events, this book is fascinating and worth reading. A great fictional tale is weaved amongst history and reality: a true feat. I certainly can’t claim I “knew it would be great” but I was so pleased with the random find, and a nice return to the Book Club world.
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