These days I don’t read many novels although occasionally I have to read one for my book group. Recently our daughter lent me one she thought I might like. A couple of years ago she had given me The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. It was about the editor of the first edition of the Oxford Dictionary and one of the many volunteers who supplied words and examples of their usage; this particular volunteer was confined to the Broadmoor asylum. That book was inspiration for another: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Australian resident author Pip Williams.
I’m a bit late catching up with this book but it was published only last year, just as Covid lockdowns began; not a good time to promote a book. But, in evidence of the power of word of mouth, it was an instant bestseller. By March this year the book had sold more than 120,000 copies and is to be published in Britain and the US. It is already a multi-award winner.
The success is well-deserved. It is indeed a novel but it emerged from significant research in the Dictionary’s archives in Oxford. The author merges an imaginary central character with the historical editor, his family and other individuals. The story also draws in the women’s suffrage movement and the Great War. The writing is beautifully measured and is ultimately very moving.
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