The surface of Eley Williams’s writing, as readers of her short story collection Attrib. will already be aware, is one of lexical delight. The animating principle is the skittish, bumble-beeing motion of her navigation across sentences and phrases, which cross-pollinate one another sonically. Sentences are often musically connected, built on harmony or the felicity of anagram; her development is the stand-up’s callback as much as any linear drive. There’s a generosity to the writing’s willingness to pretend it’s the reader who is being clever by remembering something that has been placed firmly in their hand the whole time ... This un-aloneness is also crucial to Williams’s style, always to a lesser or greater extent about, and in itself an act of, love. There is warmth and brio directed toward the words — they are accomplices and fellow travelers — but as much as language is the stage on which Williams performs her balletic maneuvers, it has an answering pressure of its own ... There is a perfectly well-constructed plot here, but it almost feels beneath a book of this charm, energy, and syncopation to dwell too ploddingly on it. For all its brilliant set pieces and neat engineering, it is the means rather than the source of the joy to be found. One comes to Williams for sentences that ricochet and dazzle ... The novel could be twice as long again, operating as it does as an exercise in voice; it isn’t damning, I hope, nor faint praise to say this is a book that is more or less all aside, and all the better for it ... That said, it is a further example of Williams’s ability to interweave, to nod backward and forward, that she can also maintain a through-line, giving her characters — and, as importantly, their vocabulary — a sense of motion, a rounding-off of event ... The connections between the two narratives operate on both the grand and small scale, and they are never less than perfectly calibrated ... For a novel as finely tuned as this, to leave one with a sense of the intoxicating hopefulness of chance is its greatest achievement in a competitive field.
You wouldn’t expect a comic novel about a dictionary to be a thriller too, but this one is. In fact, Eley Williams’s hilarious new book, The Liar’s Dictionary, is also a mystery, love story (two of them) and cliffhanging melodrama ... The Liar’s Dictionary is a raucous orgy of words. Williams juggles them, plays tunes with them, tries them on and takes them off, tastes them and spits them out. All the while, she’s using them to frame a thoughtful inquiry into truth and meaning. And her denouements are so satisfying that it would be agrupt to spoil them.
Have you ever caught a Mountweazel? Before reading Eley Williams's beguiling first novel, I'd never heard of them. But Williams is an expert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on them, and then she put her hard-earned knowledge to further good use in The Liar's Dictionary, which is to word lovers what potato chips are to my husband — minus the guilt ... Williams's novel raises questions about the instability of language, how words gain currency, and whether fake words are any less real than actual words ... The Liar's Dictionary belongs to a subgenre of historical fiction that toggles between two parallel narratives — set in the past and the present — which cleverly play off each other, unraveling mysteries and juxtaposing epiphanies in both strands ... The Liar's Dictionary, 'queasy with knowledge,' is an audacious, idiosyncratic dual love story about how language and people intersect and connect, and about how far we'll go to save what we're passionate about. It's hard not to love ... Read this clever volume for yourself, from A to Z.