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Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithan

lovers dictionary levithan Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithan


Every couple has their own dictionary: all those shared moments lead to a secret language that can be utterly incomprehensible to the outside observer. These lovers dictionaries are continually evolving, and are perfect for tracing the trajectory of a romance (and not to mention those cringe-worthy pet names). 'David Levithans latest novel, The Lovers Dictionary, does exactly this. Divided into a series of brief alphabetically arranged entries, each headed with an evocative single-word title, the book follows the ups and downs of a relationship between two unnamed characters. Certainly, the method is a trope, but in Levithans capable hands its one that is, with the exception of a few slightly melodramatic or extraneous bits and pieces, close to flawless.

Levithan captures so perfectly the events that transform a nervous acquaintance into a tentative relationship into full-blown coupledom, and his laconic style allows this path to be traced with surprising narrative elegance. Its not a linear narrative, and we see hints of a darker future amidst the rosy explorations of those earlier entries. Much of the book relies on allusion and on elision, with the reader forced to do much of the legwork to fill in those meaningful gaps. After all, its the pauses and hesitations that are often more meaningful than words themselves. And Levithan certainly doesnt shirk this fact, doing everything he can to exploit it. Dark, challenging entries are juxtaposed against whimsy and XKCD-like observations to moving contrast, and while there are moments where its a little blatant (the repeated entries regarding one lovers infidelity being a case in point), for the most part its highly effective.

Levithans incisiveness is perhaps what surprised me most about this book. There are so many painfully familiar moments in it: those ambiguities, ambivalences, those moments of self-loathing and self-doubt that are inevitable in any relationship. All of those tiny turning points in a relationship are somehow captured in this concise little tome. And oh, its so easy to see oneself popping up here and there in its pages (although perhaps thats my inner narcissist preeningly rearing its head). Its a saddening, maddening book in so many ways: its not so much a dissection of a failed relationship as the analysis of a psyche determined to remain in an increasingly desultory relationship out of sheer determination to make things work. But Levithans wit and irreverence stop it from becoming a book with which to drink away ones sorrows, which makes it a refreshing entrant in the world of relationship 'narratives. It doesnt moon, it isnt platitudinous: it just is.

Perhaps what I liked most about this novel is its confounding of archetypes and othering. Levithan neither names his characters nor gives anything away regarding gender. Perhaps due to my fleeting familiarity with Levithan and his other work, I read this under the assumption that both characters were male, but having done a quick google, it turns out that almost everyone else has defaulted to a male/female heterosexual relationship. Its a touch saddening to realise this, and theres certainly opportunity for a dialogue here. But while the story is all about the universality of love (and its myriad related conditions, afflictions, and emotions), a part of me wishes that Levithan had screwed the Irving Goffman bit and gone on record.

All in all, this is a refreshing, wonderful little volume that youll delight in dipping in and out ofif you dont devour the thing like I did. Its simultaneously sparse and sumptuous, incisive and irreverent, but its always human. A great read.

Rating: star Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithanstar Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithanstar Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithanstar Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithanhalfstar Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithan Superb

With thanks to Text Publishing for the review copy

Purchase The Lovers Dictionary from Text Publishing |The Nile| Booktopia| Amazon| Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

Other books by David Levithan:

nick and norah Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithanwill grayson will grayson david levithan Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithandash lilys book of dares levithan Review: The Lovers Dictionary by David Levithan


  1. Ive actually been eager to read this, I requested my library purchase it but they havent so far. I might have to add it to my budget instead
    Thanks for the review Steph

  2. Stephanie /

    My pleasure, ShelleyRae. I think youll enjoy it. Its one of those ones that will have you nodding along and reading bits aloud. :)

  3. salonseeker44 /

    I requested Hair melbourne my library purchase it but they havent so far. I might have to add it to myMelbourne hair budget instead

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