Mallory is a lowly intern at Swansby’s Encyclodpaedic Dictionary in present day. Her main job is to answer the phone and be berated by some anonymous troll who is upset that dictionary definitions are changing. Specifically, the definition of marriage. Tension at work is compounded by the fact that Mallory herself is gay and not out, and this troll has now called in a bomb threat. Oh, and she’s just been tasked with going through an entire encyclopedia from the 1920s and finding all of the mountweazels, fake words that have been slipped into dictionaries to catch plagiarism. Winceworth is a lexicographer working at Swansby’s in the 1920s. He is not particularly pleased with his life and has gone so far as to invent a stutter just to make life more interesting. But a stutter is not enough. He’s started writing definitions for fake words and slipping them into the dictionary.
There are some wonderfully odd events in The Liar’s Dictionary. I mean, one of the main characters invented a stutter. Mallory’s introduction to the reader involves her stuffing a whole boiled egg into her mouth with memorizing the word for envelope in multiple languages and then talking to her boss. There’s a brawl with a pelican. All delightful and strange.
Author Eley Williams is clearly very intelligent and has an immense love for words. There are archaic (and potentially even invented mountweazels) words sprinkled throughout The Liar’s Dictionary. At fist this was enjoyable. I felt like I was being taken seriously as a reader. However the wordiness and wordplay became grating after a while. I stopped looking up words that I didn’t know and started just trying to figure out their meaning as best I could.
Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t particularly care for either character or care what happened to them. I’m not hundred percent sure why but a lot of their internal, personal struggle just rang so hollow to me. I think maybe that I was starting to get frustrated with the wordiness of the book right around the same time that the two main characters were starting to open up. My frustration with the prose bled into how I felt about the characters.