In ‘The Liar’s Dictionary’ people work out the definition of love and many other words
About “Quahog”, she writes: “A word bubble, cozy and ugly and awesome”. She asks strange questions: “Exactly how many dictionary covers could one skin a single cow?”
Mallory, like Winceworth before her, longs for new words to add to the English language: “A word for when you’re head over heels in love with someone and the two of you are talking nonsense to each other. ‘other, forgivable. A word for mispronouncing words you’ve only ever seen written. His list is long and enjoyable.
The author has the gift of summoning the particularities of his speaking people. About one of Winceworth’s colleagues we read: “Whenever Bielefeld encountered an error or disturbance on a page, a sort of whinnying, snorting gag would come out of his throat.”
You have to like a novel in which the denigrations are melodious and relevant. Someone imagines saying to Bielefeld: “You stupid neck carafe of a man.”
If “The Liar’s Dictionary” sounds like it is for you, it probably is. It’s for those who would trade an entire division of NCAA football for Mary Norris, Benjamin Dreyer, Lynne Truss, Jesse Sheidlower, Bryan Garner (no relation) and a dazzling first-round editor to be named later.
Writers liked to place their enemies’ novels in the “humor” section. Friends of Williams should be sure to move a few copies of the ‘fiction’ to the ‘reference’, where they will also be comfortable.
I enjoyed “The Liar’s Dictionary” without really being able to let my guard down.
There’s a fine line, in books like this, between being playful and being complacent, trying too hard to charm. It’s the difference between a real bookstore and one that smells like potpourri, and between wit and fantasy. Williams may end up on the wrong side of that line.
There’s a bit of drama when Mallory tries four times to spell “maneuver” correctly. The reader holds his breath. “In the end,” she says, “I let autocorrect take its course.”