Given the large tracts of her childhood spent happily hidden under the sorting table adjacent to the lexicographers, it seemed inevitable that Esme Nicoll's life would be bound up with the publication of the first Oxford English Dictionary. Initiated in 1879 and completed in 1928, it is at the centre of this story with Esme's life playing out around its development, the rise of the suffrage movement and the horrors of WWI.
But Esme has something special to contribute to the herculean task of defining the English language - an abiding passion for the words discarded by the dictionary men, especially those relating to women.
Thought-provoking and original, this story immerses the fictional Esme into the world of the Oxford English Dictionary and the men and women in its sphere.
A compelling read.
Members were unanimous in their rating of this book -we all thought it was excellent and even worth re-reading, because it's a page turner in parts and it's easy to miss important details. We particularly admired the depth of Williams' research and her seamless blend of real and invented characters. Another thing the book did for us was to humanise and enrich our understanding of the production of the Oxford Dictionary, a cultural monument that we have all used and enjoyed both in work and recreation. We all enjoyed the book immensely; it made us think and sparked considerable discussion.
A really interesting read. Prompted lots of good conversations about the development of the dictionary and the historical contexts of the time such as suffrage and WWI and also the connections to current conversations around language with the new government.
One of our best books this year. The majority of the group really loved the combination of the fiction and non-fiction in the story. There were lots of interesting parts in the book and sometimes we wanted more depth. We had good conversations about words, language and the role of women in the development of language.
We all found this book really interesting and none of us had thought of how the dictionary had been put together. Clever how she wrote on historical events and also wove in a fictional story.
Some thought it needed editing, and the themes of WWI and suffragettes too lightly written. Generally enjoyed.
All enjoyed this interesting and beautiful story woven around real events in the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, women's suffrage, and WWI, plus mention of the Aboriginal languages... We are looking forward to reading her next novel, 'The Bookbinder of Jericho'. Very good discussion. It brought alive people's feelings in these times, especially women.
Everyone enjoyed this book and we had some good discussion around language.
A good read. Most enjoyed. Some found it predictable and a little gloomy. Interesting how facts, real events and real people were effectively woven within the fictional narrative.
The majority (10/12) of our group thoroughly enjoyed this book. There was much to learn about the Oxford Dictionary, the Suffragette movement and WWI. Very easy to read and engrossing.
Our group generally agreed this was a wonderful novel, cleverly based on facts and historical events. Some enjoyed the first half more, not liking the number of deaths occurring in the second half. Not surprisingly, the writing is very good.
We all enjoyed this book. Thought it was beautifully written, thought-provoking, and led to discussion on many different topics.
Beautifully written, vivid and descriptive - a "slow read" book. Interesting storyline - something very different. Story really 'rang true' to the period.
Well-written. Enjoyed by almost all of the group.
We all enjoyed the weaving of real people and events into the fictional tale of Esme. A great perspective from the unheard people of the time - women, the poor, soldiers at the front in WW1.
The book became interesting as we got into it. A window into women's lives at the time. Great mixing of real people who existed in history with fictional characters.
Very well-written, brings history alive. A little long though, with small print.
Overall our group enjoyed the book, for some the beginning was a bit slow. We particularly enjoyed the way the author intertwined fact and fiction. A fascinating insight into society over the time the dictionary was put together, lots of discussion around gender bias in language development, evolving nature of words and how meanings change over time. Thought provoking.
Great discussion. Group arrived with all manner of dictionaries!
The book was enjoyed by everyone - for the language, the historical situation and the story. A fantastic read.
Nearly everyone in our group loved this book. Great characters, fascinating history of the Oxford dictionary and women's suffrage & inequality. Not a quick read.
Most of us loved the book, and found it an excellent telling of social history.
We found it a very interesting and satisfying read. Liked the mixture of fact and fiction.
An interesting book. Generated lots of discussion around gender equality. Thought provoking content.
Great discussion, very wide ranging across issues of gender and bias. Enjoyable book with slightly removed impersonal tone around the main characters - liked by some.
A haunting story that was a comfortable easy read. Believable fiction expertly woven into historical fact. An excellent read for those interested in the development of the English language and the place of women in society in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We had a really in depth discussion around this book. The story beautifully married Esme's fictional experience into the historical story around the Oxford Dictionary, along with the social history of the period. Great characters in Lizzie, Ditte, Esme and Esme's father.
Everyone enjoyed the book and we had an excellent discussion.
The group enjoyed this book. Some found the beginning slow. Lots of discussion.
Mostly enjoyed by all although some found it a little slow. Very interesting read!
Enjoyed by almost everyone. Notes at the end were really interesting and relevant. Time needed to read book.
Everyone loved this book, some said the best of the year. It is a larger book but very easy to read. The fiction and historical fact were woven together beautifully.
Some members thought the book was too long, but worth persevering. Dictionary history fascinating and woven cleverly through the story using a mixture of known and fictional characters. So many topics to discuss, we could have continued for hours!
Enjoyed by everyone. Very interesting historical context, well-drawn characters, skillful blending of fact and fiction, particularly with regard to the compilation of the OED. A gentle style made this easy to read while the questions it raises about gendered language, who makes decisions about language, whose voices are unheard, remain significant today.
We all enjoyed it. Set the scene well - the author did a great job of weaving fact and fiction - very clever.
A real winner for the group. Almost everyone read and enjoyed the new words we all learnt. It brought up good discussions about the lack of women in history in general as well.
We found this original and captivating, covering a wide range of important issues in our recent history.
We all really enjoyed this book. We have a mixed group of both men and women and the discussion was excellent the men in particular were given insight into women's experiences (both in the historical context of the book and our present day reality). Besides this, the historical details around the formation of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary were fascinating. We all felt we learned a lot about this piece of history.
Great acclaim for this book. A true historical drama that provided readers with an emotive read, mixed with insights to people living and contributing to the development of the OED.
Thoroughly enjoyed by all.