Project Description


Buy the book
24 November 2020
RRP: $19.99
ISBN: 9781922400277
Paperback,  384 pages
198 x 128 mm

For media enquiries please contact publicity:
T: (03) 8695 9627

The Dictionary of Lost Words | New Format

by Pip Williams

In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford
where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath
the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and
stashes it in an old wooden case 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. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, 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 the world and our experience of it.

PRAISE for The Dictionary of Lost Words

‘From this quirky lexicographical incident Pip Williams has conjured an extraordinary, charming novel… Williams pins a whole, rich life to the page.’ The Times (UK)

‘A captivating and slyly subversive fictional paean to the real women whose work on the Oxford English Dictionary went largely unheralded.’ The New York Times

‘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

‘This absorbing, quietly revolutionary novel … is deeply, intrinsically kind … A profoundly comforting place to dwell.’ The Age

‘In the annals of lexicography, no more imaginative, delightful, charming and clever book has yet been written.’  Simon Winchester, author of The Surgeon of Crowthorne

‘Pip Williams has spun a marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress … It is at once timely and timeless.’ Geraldine Brooks

‘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

‘There’s a lot of buzz around this book with good reason.’ The Herald Sun

‘A lovely book.’ The Adelaide Advertiser

‘A thoroughly original concept married to beautifully rendered characters, immersive setting and intensely satisfying storytelling.’ Melissa Ashley, author of The Birdman’s Wife and The Bee and the Orange Tree

‘Esme and her world really resonated with me. She is a terrific character: intelligent, empathetic and resilient. I was exhilarated reading this novel.’ Readings Monthly

‘Exuberant … meticulously researched … deeply satisfying.’ Publisher’s Weekly

‘Endlessly fascinating and more and more enchanting the further you go, this is a book you can completely lose yourself in.’ Ben Hunter, Fiction Buyer at Booktopia

About the Author

Pip was born in London, grew up in Sydney and now calls the Adelaide Hills home. She is co-author of the book Time Bomb: Work Rest and Play in Australia Today (New South Press, 2012) and in 2017 she wrote One Italian Summer, a memoir of her family’s travels in search of the good life, which was published with Affirm Press to wide acclaim. In The Dictionary of Lost Words she combines her talent for historical research with beautiful storytelling. She has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary and found a tale of missing words and the lives of women lived between the lines.