The Dictionary of Lost Words

Dear Reader,

It is with great delight that I am able to wish a Happy Publication Day to a truly beautiful book; The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Esme is born into a world of words. 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 related to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.


The longer it is since finishing The Dictionary of Lost Words the more powerful a book I find it. Though the style is slow in pace, it suits the story’s focus on the daily details of Edwardian life. The narrative follows the life of Esme, from a small child who can hide under the table, to a young women searching for meaning in life and trying to find her place in the world. The almost biographical tone of the story perfectly captures the society pressures of early 20th Century and the daily grind of living. It also shines a light on the everyday experience of historical events, such as the Women’s Suffrage movement and the Great War. The writing has a quiet reality about it and, though slow in pace, it perfectly reflects the narratives themselves.

What stood out most for me was the focus on the experience of women – the fears of pregnancy, the risks of abortion, the shame and treatment of women who were in this predicament; the gender gap is more of a chasm at this time. I especially loved how Williams delved into the hidden histories of the women from this era, sought them out and shared thier voices and experiences with the world. I really enjoyed hearing more about the Suffragists and stories/reasons behind thier less militant arguments/actions. Most of the books I’ve read about the women’s suffrage movement tend to focus on the more dramatic actions of their sister movement – the Suffragettes. It’s important to remember what the quieter half contributed to this historic upheaval.

The quietly feminist narrative, alongside that of the creation of the first dictionary, made for a fascinating and engaging narrative that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, feminist writings and intricate, detailed and emotional writing. I have found myself looking up words and thier meanings in the dictionary far more than I used to and also have a whole new respect for the work that went into it’s creation.

Esme is accompanied by a charismatic cast of characters, each offering something different to the story and her life. All leave a footprint (sometimes a stamp) on her heart. Lizzie was a particularly wonderful character and her words of wisdom are timeless.

An element of the narrative that particularly fascinated me was the way it covered the passing of time – of continuity and monotony, and yet, of a constant shifting. Even amongst the familiar, despite everything, the only constant in life is change.

At times, desperately sad, but a heartfelt and beautiful book.


Thanks to Lucy @ Bookworm Blogger and my Mum for being my reading companions on this literary adventure – it was great to share Esme’s story with you both.

Thank you to Net Galley, Random House Publishers and Author Pip Williams for my ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

As ever, I’d love to hear if you’ve read this book too or something similar you’d recommend to me and other readers? Drop us a line in the comments or over on Twitter @MegReadz 🙂

Until next time!

Meg xx

10 thoughts on “The Dictionary of Lost Words

    1. It really was a wonderful book ☺️ good idea 👍 I slide lots of books I fancy reading into the wait-till-out-in-paperback pile 😅 so excited cause the first of this month saw paperback publication for two from my list! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

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