Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.
Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word bondmaid flutter to the floor unclaimed. Esme seizes the word and hides it in an old wooden trunk that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.
Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape our experience of the world.
‘What a novel of words, their adventure and their capacity to define and, above all, challenge the world. There will not be this year a more original novel published. I just know it.’ Tom Keneally, author of Schindler’s List
‘Full of heart and tenderness, heartbreak and joy, love and loss … this is the perfect iso read.’ The Herald Sun
‘The debut novelist who’s become a lockdown sensation.’ The Guardian Australia
‘The biggest treat of The Dictionary of Lost Words is the complexity of a central character who is not easy to classify – a listener with an innate understanding of the life-changing importance of valuing people’s words.’ The Saturday Paper
‘This is a wonderful debut novel … I even cried while reading it on the train.’ Sarah L’Estrange, ABC Radio National’s The Book Show
‘My advice to readers is: experience The Dictionary of Lost Words for yourselves rather than getting swept away by the hype. Don’t gobble it, as I did the first time round – savour its heart-wrenching detail.’ The Conversation