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Lempriere's Dictionary [Hardcover]

Lawrence Norfolk
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 Aug 1991
A novel which blends history with fiction and crime with reality.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 536 pages
  • Publisher: Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd; First Edition edition (26 Aug 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1856190536
  • ISBN-13: 978-1856190534
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 714,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Historical fiction of mesmerizing complexity... It is a masterpiece" (Daily Mail)

"A love story and a story of fantastic adventure, it is also a hugely comic novel" (Sunday Times)

"A dazzling linguistic and formal achievment" (Salman Rushdie)

"Poised, superbly inventive and gripping. With Lemprière's Dictionary the precocious author has catapulted himself into the premier league of English fiction writing" (Observer)

"Extravagantly spectacular...myriad wonders and pleasures abound....superbly entertaining" (Washington Post) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A seductive puzzle that wends its way through history, politics, literature and the yearnings of the human heart... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read for a patient reader. 5 July 2001
By A Customer
Lemprière's Dictionary
When 'Lemprière's Dictionary' was originally published in 1991, the reviews were almost all favourable. Reading the novel years later in paperback, I agree that it is in most ways all that the critics said it was. It is not a quick or easy read and is clotted in some places with classical references perhaps extracted from the classical dictionary that provides its title. I presume that the writer had access to a copy of that reference book while he was conceiving and writing his own literary tapestry.
There are charming passages and some turgid parts; I liked his walks through old London and was impressed by his descriptions of ports and ships and by his overviews of periods and events in European history. There is less that I found comic but perhaps that is too personal.
What I often found myself troubled by was the recreation, complete with equally fictional father, of the original John Lemprière as the sniggering and not always attractive fictional character in the novel. The real life John Lemprière was first a schoolmaster and then an ordained minister of the Church of England. His dictionary remained popular into the twentieth century and can be found, at a price, through Amazon. I cannot but feel that the licence allowed for the writing of a historical novel has been somewhat exceeded.
I put the book down a number of times. But I picked it up again and was glad I did.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling, complex, erudite and witty novel. 7 April 2000
By A Customer
'Lempriere's Dictionary' is a fascinating novel, tying together many seemingly separate plots, and encompassing genres from the romantic, through the gothic, to the fantastic. The Lempriere's are a family with a dark history, a treasonous agreement valid in perpetuity haunts successive generations. Norfolk ties the mystery of the Lempriere's with a story of corruption at the heart of the East India Company, assassinations, strange deaths, and uncertain romance. Lempriere slaves away at a classical dictionary in order to purge his addled psyche, while revolution is afoot in France, in London, and above it all flies the charred figure of the Sprite of La Rochelle... The book is so spellbinding, that I felt sad once I had finished it, as if it's world had died. For this reason, don't borrow the book from a library, as you won't want to return it. Instead, shell out for your own copy, and I guarantee it will be on your bedside table in perpetuity.
Lawrence Norfolk is a brilliant novelist, and his books are complex, fascinating, full of energy, and intensely enjoyable. I recommend that you buy this and his earlier book, 'The Pope's Rhinocerous', a similarly good read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
How on earth does Lawrence Norfolk keep so many threads going in a single story- the writing of Lempriere's classical treatise on Greek mythology, the founding of the East India Company, a beautiful love story between a stolen girl and a bespectacled academic. Racing from Paris to London to Jersey via tall ships and via soaring angelic spirits, this book uses history to springboard into complex fantastical creations. But despite the fantastical soaring, the emotions it portrays of the protagonists as they run through London's grimey 17th century streets, pursued by mythical maniacal monsters, are very much real and had me crying and laughing by turns. An incredible story - like Salman Rushdie's Shame if it had been written by Umberto Eco (if that makes sense!)
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The reviewers claimed this as a 'masterpiece' and a 'tour de force'. I don't know, to me it had the air of a book that had been struggled with over a long period and almost given up in despair several times. Although there were some good things in it, the pacing was rather pedestrian and both this and the novel's length mitigated against the generation of much suspense. Some ruthless editing could well have sharpened up its impact. As yet the author just didn't seem up to the task his own ambition had imposed. And in order to maintain interest in such a ludicrously convoluted plot, I think you need more vivid characterization - his people were just too pallidly drawn.
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