Books Most Unwanted II: Lempriere’s Dictionary

It’s been longer before I’m continuing this series than I originally expected. But now, I can’t stand this any longer. This time it’s Lawrence Norfolk’s novel “Lempriere’s Dictionary” that I’m all upset about. The book is Norfolk’s first novel, an attempt at something big, and has received some considerable applause. I fail to quite understand what for, though.

Lawrence Norfolk: Lempriere's Dictionary

Lawrence Norfolk: Lempriere's Dictionary

Believe me, I am really trying to enjoy this book. Maybe I wouldn’t be as upset, if I didn’t. The book itself, I received as a gift from my wife. But now, I’ve been reading it for months and haven’t progressed any further than page 200 and something. Of course, you may say, the book just is no easy read. And I may not be up to the task. — Well, I have read a few difficult books during my studies of “English and American Literature” or “Medieval History”. I also thoroughly enjoy things like Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” (including every single, distracting footnote). This is very different, though.

It all starts with the inner monologue of the protagonist. For pages and pages he wallows in self-pity, almost unbearable. From there, I thought, it can only get better. And it did to some extent, but even later the characters remain hardly credible in their actions. Like when John Lempriere goes to meet with his counterpart in an old inherited contract only to be shown an absurd drinking game and then eventually take part in it rather than smacking Septimus who stole his money to place a bet. Even later, he decides to write a dictionary following the advice of an again completely absurd session with a psychiatrist Septimus organized … Huh? Why does Lempriere even still associate with Septimus? Why does he take the psychiatrist for serious, when he feels it’s a farce?

But what’s probably worse to me, personally, is that Norfolk is just no story-teller. He prefers to indulge in endless often completely unmotivated discourse (for example between Septimus and the landlord of a cafe on the comparative merits of coffee vs. tea) just to sound scholarly. This, I feel, is a lot more to the benefit of the author than the reader.

Anyway, the rest of my sentiments have already been voiced elsewhere. I’ll link to a few review that sum it up, nicely. Fairness, of course, demands to admit that there are favourable reviews, too.

A to Z! About 24 letters too long.

Lempriere’s Fictionary

Light industry masquerading as art

Overwritten pretentious drivel

3 thoughts on “Books Most Unwanted II: Lempriere’s Dictionary

  1. Taylor says:

    I’m sure you’ve already thrown the book away in spite. But please check the version you are reading. The American version is some 400 plus pages. The English version is several hundred pages longer. The Americans decided to hack out how the book ends in significant ways. You won’t even understand how the love triangle turns out. You won’t understand the ending at all. 2 other major characters aren’t even revealed at the end of the American version.

    But if you don’t like what you’ve read so far then never mind. Just burn the book and move on with your life. I personally enjoyed the detail. But my brain is apparently broken as I’ve read both versions. So, take it for what its worth.


    • LOL … yeah, yeah … I’ve relaxed considerably since … just sometimes get worked up.
      Suppose it goes without saying that reception of literature is largely a matter of taste and mine’s not necessarily everybody else’s.

  2. Tomas Mika says:

    Taste is one thing, being open to absurdity or not is another. Norfolk never fails to surprise with yet another twist in this his first novel. He does not emphasize on credibility to a comparable degree to the expectations of the author of this critique, so there is no match to be expected. Lemprieres Notebook is a work of fiction….and I loved reading every single line of it. If you need a comparison I would say its like a Cuvee of “Foucaults pendulum” and “The name of the rose” written by an author on drugs ­čÖé

    Cheers, Tomas

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