Monday 3 March 2014

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Review: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover's Dictionary by David LevithanThe Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan - How does one talk about love? Is it even possible to describe something at once utterly mundane and wholly transcendent, that has the power to consume our lives completely, while making us feel part of something infinitely larger than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this age-old problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan's "The Lover's Dictionary constructs the story of a relationship as a dictionary. Through these sharp entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of coupledom, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time. From Goodreads

I have wanted to read this book for such a long time, long before I had read anything else by David Levithan. The idea of this story really intrigued me, and I was really interested to see if it would work. And it really, really did!

The Lover's Dictionary is a story of a couple's relationship, from beginning to end. The story isn't told in chronological order of the events, but in alphabetical order of the words. With each word, there will be a memory or a feeling or an idea about their relationship sparked by the word, with each entry being from either one line to a page and a half. We know the nameless narrator is male, but we don't know the gender of the also nameless "you." The story works for "you" being of any gender.

I misunderstood the book, first of all. Half the time, it felt like the Dictionary was written after the break up. It felt like the narrator decided to flick through a dictionary, and write a memory/feeling/idea for each word that spoke to him. And with the memory/feeling/idea comes an emotion. The story isn't told chronologically, as I said, but each entry is written one after the other by the narrator - and the emotions jump depending on the word and what it sparks. So one moment is a happy remembrance, in another, there is such hurt and anger. This is how it feels. It's not so much a story, but as someone writing it all down, maybe as a way to deal with the break-up. At least that's how it felt.

Until the tense would break up, and became present. And for a moment, I get stuck. At first, I would think "Oooh, recent break up. Sometimes it's difficult to go to the past tense." But then you would get an entry written in present tense that is quite obviously in the middle of the relationship, and it would throw this whole idea out the water. The narrator isn't writing this after a break up. He is living his romance, it is a story, and each entry is a certain time within the relationship. It took a little getting used to, once I figured out there was no actual logical to the back and forth accept for the alphabetical dictionary entries. It made it easier to follow to think it was, as I said, written after the break up. But in the end, you have to just let it go, and accept it's not going to make any logical sense when it comes to time. It is all over the place, but once I accepted that, I really enjoyed it!

I have to admit that I had to read the book with a dictionary. I didn't know maybe half of the words, and without knowing the definition made the entry seem a little random. You need to understand the word to understand the relevance of the entry. But it's such a great book! Full of Levithan's usual style, with beautiful language and awesome insights! Loved it. One of my favourite entries:
'ineffable, adj.

These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.' (p120)
I can relate to this one so much, and not just about love, about any emotion! Oh my god, sometimes, words just don't work.

The Lover's Dictionary is a great book! A fantastic idea, a quick read, and quite a touching story. I loved it!

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Published: 2nd February 2012
Publisher: Fourth Estate
David Levithan's Website


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