Saturday, May 19, 2012

Week-End's Minis XV: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in January 2011
basis, n.

There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it—you’re done. And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face.

How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
Genre: Fiction, contemporary
Series: None

What do you need to know? As the blurb indicates, The Lover's Dictionary is written like a dictionary. Each word the narrator has decided to examine is defined by a moment, a feeling, an event that stem from the narrator's relationship with his lover. You have the perfect example in the blurb with basis :) Each page is dedicated to a word and like a real dictionary, it's in alphabetical order - therefore, the story is not told in chronological order and readers have to piece the story together from the bits they get from each definition. In addition, the narrator is anonymous and the gender of his lover is also unknown.

Why this book? Well, I think it's Ames who first brought this book to my attention. And then, it started to pop up on many other blogs (Christine, Hils, Mariana and Kailana). I thought the concept was very original and wanted to discover this book for myself :)

What I liked? The Lover's Dictionary was a quick, enjoyable read. The concept is very original, interesting and refreshing and that's obviously what made the book stands out. However, it had to be combined with the story Mr. Levithan wanted to tell and his writing for it to be as good :) Now, looking back, The Lover's Dictionary seems like a risky bet, but one that Mr. Levithan undeniably won.

When I started reading The Lover's Dictionary, I have to say I had my doubts. I'm the kind of reader who doesn't pay much attention to words themselves. You have probably noticed that in my reviews, I rarely quote from books and if I do, it's never a sentence and more a passage. So I have a tendency to take it away as a whole - feeling, story, etc. However, in the kind of books like The Lover's Dictionary, words seem to be so important and I was afraid I was going to miss something... but I don't think I did :)

The Lover's Dictionary is also a book where you have to glean for every piece and bits of information on everything: the relationships, the narrator, the lover, their personalities, etc. And once you have these information, you have to put it together to make a whole picture, kind of like a puzzle. I have to say I enjoyed that part more than I thought I would :) I also really enjoyed the ambiguity concerning the gender of the lover. To me, all these are proofs of how ingenious Mr. Levithan is with his writing :)

Any issues? It's not an issue per se, but obviously, at the end of the day, what the readers will remember most about The Lover's Dictionary is the concept of the book. The way The Lover's Dictionary is written and how the story unfolds, I think it's difficult to really connect with the characters. I mean, in the beginning, you're trying to figure out things and how everything connects, you're more focused on the definitions and less on the characters. Also, the fact that the narrator and the lover are anonymous creates a barrier in my opinion. I did feel for the narrator and I enjoyed reading his different feelings for every step of their relationship. His incertitude and doubts were heart-felt... but he's still a nameless face for me. As a result, it's really hard to get attached to him and get attached to the book on an emotional level and I think that will always be the flaw of this book.

My Grade? B. I did enjoy the book a lot and felt it was really refreshing, but as I said, there's a lack of emotional connection between me and the story and the characters, hence the grade. Still, The Lover's Dictionary is definitively worth a read; if not for the concept, then for Mr. Levithan's clever writing :)


  1. Great review! It was a very interesting concept and some words rang more emotional than others for me. It took me a bit to get the rhythm of the story; but I really enjoyed the journey. You are right though, a reader walks away more with impressions of a story and not specifics.

  2. I enjoyed the set up of this book. You had to take the time after reading each entry to figure out what the author was trying to tell us and your emotional reaction to certain words.

    And it's been almost a year since I've read that book but I still find myself thinking about it - the infidelity aspect to it, anyway. LOL

  3. Mariana - Thanks Mariana :) Even though it wasn't quite a happy ending with the relationship, I thought it was a fun book to read. I really enjoyed finding out what these words meant for the narrator. But I think that attentive readers will enjoy this book even more. And I think while the concept is cool, it is a bit too abstract for the readers to walk away with specifics of the story.

    Ames - I think that was one of the problems for me ^_^; I really breezed through the book, didn't take my time to read it... So some words just didn't stay with me.

    I think it was a really nice way to abord the subjects Mr. Levithan wanted to abord. It's good that it stayed with you.

  4. Great review, Nath! The same thing happened to me, I breezed through this book first and walked away loving the prose, but with certain impressions of the story and a bit disconnected from it. But when I went to review it, I actually went back (which was about a month later) because something was nagging me. I re-read certain portions of it and found what I was looking for... and I agree with you that the disconnect is there because of that ambiguity and almost anonymous factor behind the characterization. This book is such a creative piece of work though. I really want to read more by Mr. Levithan.

  5. Hilcia - Thanks Hils :) It is definitively a great book and so creative... however, I don't think it'll ever become a classic because of the ambiguity and anonymity...

  6. Great review, Nath! This one sounds interesting. I've been hearing a lot of good things about David Levithan.

  7. Samantha - It was a very interesting book, Samantha, and worth a look :P So far, I have enjoyed Mr Levithan's writing, but he experiments a lot I find and sometimes, with mixed results.