The book follows Esme Nicholl, daughter of lexicographer Harry. In her childhood Esme spends her days under the sorting table in the Scriptorium, and with the Murray’s young maid Lizzie. The Scriptorium, known to many as the Scrippy, is a shed in the garden of Editor Dr James Murray’s house in Oxford, where the men of the dictionary work. One day a slip falls under the table, bearing the word “bondmaid.” Esme pockets it and hides it away. This is the first of many words which Esme collects.
The process of researching and publishing the dictionary is long, and over the years Esme outgrows the space under the table. As she progresses into adulthood Esme collects words which are not deemed relevant to the dictionary. They are words which are not written down, or used by scholars. They are spoken by women, and poor people; the people on the edges of history. Some are considered vulgar. But does any of this mean they shouldn’t be recorded and remembered as part of the amazing, ever-evolving wonder that is the English language? Esme sees the value in these words, and the people who use them. She seeks the people the dictionary is leaving out and she collects their words, storing them in a trunk beneath Lizzie’s bed, building the Dictionary of Lost Words.
The book spans the time of women’s suffrage and World War I, and weaves real people and events into the fictional story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is beautifully written, equally so in the heart-breaking moments as in the heart-warming ones, and it does not shy away from those heart-breaking moments. Take the time reading this to relish over the words. Share in the outrage at inequality and the grief of loss, feel the warmth of friendship and the spirit of hope. The story starts off a bit slowly and it took me a while to get into it, but it was well worth the effort. I ended up not wanting to put it down, but I had to a couple of times because I needed a moment to take in what had just happened. This is set to be one of my top reads this year and I already want to read it again.
Posted by Lara
Catalogue link: The Dictionary of Lost Words