86: The Lover’s Dictionary

I had read some good reviews of The Lover’s Dictionary, so when I saw it at the library last week I picked it up.

To call it a book is a bit of a stretch.  Organized around stories used to define words (thus the dictionary), the stories vary in length.  While it’s technically over 200 pages, some of those pages only have a few lines on them.  It’s as if Rob Bell had written a novel.

In many ways the book reminds me of a book of poetry.  The style is so spare and unique, it feels like you’ve fallen into a poem.  The author feels none of the usual draw to narrative explanation, linear timekeeping or themes.  Each entry is separate from the others, but put together as a whole they tell the story of a love affair.  You never learn the names of either participant, nor if the relationship ends up lasting.  You just get these tiny glimpses from the narrator into their life.  Like a series of polaroids to figure out someone’s life.

The language David Levithan uses is, by turns, absolutely amazing.  He had a gift with words and uses it well in the short stories.

In some ways the story makes me think about Twitter.  A complete thought reduced to 140 characters.  Often lacking context or explanation.

Letting go of expectations of a ‘proper novel’, The Lover’s Dictionary is very good.  What begins looking like a cheap literary trick ends up bringing an originality of form and language to the tale.

However, don’t read this book if you’re looking for something to read over days or weeks.  I supposed you could read just a few pages a day and savour them, but I read the book in about 2 hours.


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