Adult Book Review: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Posted May 31, 2022 by jrsbookr in Historical fiction / 0 Comments

Adult Book Review: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

by Pip Williams
Adult Book Review: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip WilliamsThe Dictionary of Lost Words Published by Random House Publishing Group on April 6, 2021
Source: Library book
Genres: Fiction / Biographical, Fiction / Historical / General, Fiction / Women
Pages: 416
Find the Author: Website, Goodreads, Amazon
Format: Hardcover
Buy on Amazon

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK FOR MAY ’22! • “Delightful . . . [a] captivating and slyly subversive fictional paean to the real women whose work on the Oxford English Dictionary went largely unheralded.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress.”—Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Book

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.




A Reeses Book Club pick for May is the intriguing synopsis about how the word Bondmaid went missing from the Dictionary and an in-depth look at the girl who stole it. Esme is easy to like character and seeing the creation of the Dictionary through her eyes made for a fascinating Historical Fiction novel. I am sure few of us have a grasp on the composition of the first Oxford English Dictionary. The amount of effort of the scholars (primarily men) to research, define and decide the importance of words. The novel is multi-layered, impeccably researched, and shines a spotlight on the unique and remarkable contributions of not just the men but also the women.
The bittersweet backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement and the war at times made me tear up as Esme tries to navigate the world as a young lady that at times is still seen as a child. Her relationship with people over the meaning of words and how various people use them made for some fascinating insight.
I highly recommend it to historical fiction lovers and those who enjoy books centered around historical moments and characters.

About Pip Williams

I love to read, write & travel. Sharing the joys and disappointments of all three is what makes life good.

The long version

I have spent most of my working life as a social researcher studying how people live their lives and what makes life good. My research has resonated with the public’s thirst for knowledge about how to live a more balanced life and I have been interviewed for newspaper, magazine and radio.

I am co-author of the book ‘Time Bomb: Work, Rest and Play in Australia Today’ (with Barbara Pocock & Natalie Skinner), published in 2012 by NewSouth Press. I have also published a handful of academic chapters and more than thirty peer reviewed academic papers in the fields of psychology, sociology, public health, medicine, work and family, and community development.

A few years ago I became thoroughly bored with academic writing and developed an unhealthy cynicism about its worth. The only logical thing to do was give it up and drag the whole family to the other side of the world to work as labourers on organic farms.

Since then I have published travel articles, book reviews for radio and press, and flash fiction.

My second book, One Italian Summer, was published by Affirm Press in April 2017. It is a work of narrative non-fiction and it tells the story of my family’s journey through Italy in search of the good life.

My third book and first novel is The Dictionary of Lost Words. This book has been a joy to spend time with over the past few years. If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

I live with my partner, two children and an assortment of animals on 5 acres in the Adelaide hills.