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Lempriere's Dictionary


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A seductive puzzle that wends its way through history, politics, literature and the yearnings of the human heart...

About the Author

Lawrence Norfolk was born in London in 1963. He read English at King's College, London, graduating in 1986. He began teaching, studied for a Ph.D., and worked as a freelance writer on a number of reference books, contributing articles and reviews to magazines and journals including the Times Literary Supplement. He has written three novels; Lempri re's Dictionary, Pope's Rhinoceros and In the Shape of a Boar.


Few discerning readers will care to hack through this choked jungle of historical fiction, fantasy and myth, despite the obvious intelligence and erudition British first novelist Norfolk displays here. John Lempriere, an actual 18th-century classicist and mythographer, perceives the world through the lenses of Greek and Latin fables. When he sees his father mangled by hunting dogs, just after both have witnessed a naked girl--John's adored Juliette--bathing in a forest stream, this evocation of Actaeon and Diana goads Lempriere to ``lay the ghosts to Antiquity'' by compiling his famed Dictionary . In 19th-century London, ancient ghosts proliferate. Lampriere views Pork Club revelers as Circe's swine; a grotesquely murdered woman who was fed molten gold is perceived as Danae, seduced by Jove in a golden rain; a Juliette lookalike, slain in a goatskin, is a latter-day Iphigenia. Interlarded is a bloated subplot, delineating a scam enacted generations earlier by a party of East India traders, which in 1627 led to Richelieu's crushing siege of the French city of La Rochelle when Huguenots sided with the English. During an eerie trance (paralleling the underworld visits of heroes Ulysses and Aeneas) Lempriere learns of his ancestor's meddling in the traders' ``Cabbala.'' It is the phantoms of history who drove him to authorship. Norfolk's superimposition of mythic patterns on urban life implies a model in James Joyce's Ulysses. While his scheme misfires, he is a writer of talent who may yet write a better novel. (Sept.)

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 Lempriere'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 *

If Norfolk's first novel were indeed a dictionary, its first entries might well be accomplished, ambitious, and audacious. On one level this is a richly textured historical novel set at the end of the 18th century in London, Paris , and the Channel Islands. At the same time it subverts our expectations, revealing ``history '' as a vast conspiracy whose workings are both mysterious and inevitable. At its center is John Lempri ere, a (real) figure whose 1788 dictionary of mythology insists on springing to gruesome life. An army of cabalists and automatons, a virtual bureaucracy of the damned, plotting apocalypse, are ranged against him. Dauntingly elusive and allusive, but highly recommended for readers of Eco and Fowles. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/92.-- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.

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