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Lempriere's Dictionary Hardcover – 26 Aug 1991

3.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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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: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,095,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"[A] formidably learned novel...an extraordinary achievement."

"[This] is an engrossing and wonderfully intricate extravaganza." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
'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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
I read this on first publication in 1991 and again now in 2015; it is certainly not a breeze to read but since first reading I have discovered that Norfolk is a real writers' writer, having heard both Will Self and Martin Amis laud him. He is nothing like them, he writes an idiosyncratic historical novel often very tightly focused such that you aren't quite sure where you are or what is happening, it is very much a welter. The tale is very loosely based on the real Lempriere's, he who composed the classical dictionary of all the figures in Greece and Rome's antiquity in a London new risen to be the largest city on Earth. One consequence of this is a powerful atmosphere generated by the huge city teeming with life and thronged by all sorts of people. I have 'Lempriere's Dictionary' itself now, but the novel doesn't depend on knowing it or isn't any richer for it.. Often requiring much concentration, Norfolk's syntax is not straightforward and the style is lapidary, it requires work but repays it; I still read it straight through in 4 days and on two occasions - for obvious reasons I do not want to identify them, Norfolk conjures - an apt word - scenes of preternatural strangeness I have only found attempted in Peter Carey's description of a chicken in 'Illywacker' where a similar defamiliarization is effected in a similar tour de force. Norfolk's are two of my favourite moments in modern literature and persuade me that he is worth Will Self's encomium despite an oeuvre comprising just two!. Not an easy read, it's a must though. It took me aback at times, a rare thing.
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