Review: The Liar’s Dictionary

“The thought became clear and clean: it would take just some small strokes of pen to transfer these doodled drafts onto the official blue index cards and he could pepper the dictionary with false entries. Thousands of them—cuckoos-in-the-nest, changeling words, easily overlooked mistakes. He could define parts of the world that only he could see or for which he felt responsible.” 

Eley Williams

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
265 pages 
Published by Doubleday, 2020
Genre: Fiction
Re-readability: I might return to this one someday.  
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by: Indiana 

Synopsis from the publisher: 

“Mountweazel n. the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.

Peter Winceworth, Victorian lexicographer, is toiling away at the letter S for Swansby’s multivolume Encyclopaedic Dictionary. His disaffection compels him to insert unauthorized fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some sense of individual purpose and artistic freedom.

In the present day, Mallory, a young intern employed by the publisher, is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels before the work is digitized. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Is the change in the definition of marriage really that upsetting? And does the caller really intend for the Swansby’s staff to ‘burn in hell’?

As these two narratives combine, both Winceworth and Mallory discover how they might negotiate the complexities of the often nonsensical, relentless, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn, and undefinable path we call life. An exhilarating debut novel from a formidably brilliant young writer, The Liar’s Dictionary celebrates the rigidity, fragility, absurdity, and joy of language.”


This is a book for logophiles. The chapter heads, fittingly, are written in alphabetical order. Each section is packed with unusual words, some fake of course, and others that have just fallen out of use. They’re not used in an arrogant way either, expecting the reader to know them all. They’re either defined or used in a context where one can infer the meaning. 

The narrative toggles between the woebegone Winceworth and the uneasy Mallory, both who are struggling in their romantic lives. Winceworth falls for a charismatic woman who is taken; Mallory is not out yet and is in a relationship with a woman who has been out for years. 

It’s easy to root for these two characters and their development, as they each find reasons to start fully living. 

However, this book should be read for the writing, not for the plot. There is a well-done plot-twist and the way that Mallory’s portion of the story wrapped-up was satisfying; when it came to Winceworth, I felt at least one more chapter was warranted.

The beauty of the book is in the writing and the message about the power of words. 

Has anyone else read this book? What did you think of it?  

3 thoughts on “Review: The Liar’s Dictionary

Add yours

  1. I was enticed by the title and cover image and have this out from the library right now. Whether or not I get to it before it’s due back remains to be seen, but I do find the idea of the “power of words” very appealing.

    Liked by 1 person

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