The dusty files of a venerable dictionary publisher, a hidden cache of coded clues, a story written by a phantom author, an unsolved murder in a gritty urban park. All collide memorably in Emily Arsenault's magnificent debut, at once a teasing literary puzzle, an ingenious suspense novel, and an exploration of definitions: of words, of who we are, and of the stories we choose to define us.
In the maze of cubicles at Samuelson Company, editors toil away in silence, studying the English language, poring over new expressions and freshly coined words - all in preparation for the next new edition of the Samuelson Dictionary. Among them is editorial assistant Billy Webb, just out of college, struggling to stay awake and appear competent. But there are a few distractions. His intriguing coworker Mona Minot may or may not be flirting with him. And he's starting to sense something suspicious going on beneath this company's academic facade.
Mona has just made a startling discovery: a trove of puzzling citations, all taken from the same book, The Broken Teaglass. Billy and Mona soon learn that no such book exists. And the quotations from it are far too long, twisting, and bizarre for any dictionary. They read like a confessional, coyly hinting at a hidden identity, a secret liaison, a crime.
As Billy and Mona ransack the office files, a chilling story begins to emerge: a story about a lonely young woman, a long-unsolved mystery, a moment of shattering violence. And as they piece together its fragments, the puzzle begins to take on bigger personal meaning for both of them, compelling them to redefine their notions of themselves and each other.
Charged with wit and intelligence, set against a sweetly cautious love story, The Broken Teaglass is a tale that will delight lovers of words, lovers of mysteries, and fans of smart, funny, brilliantly inventive fiction.
©2009 Emily Arsenault (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“A literary gem.” (New York Times Notable Crime Books of 2009)
“Word lovers won't want to miss this one.” (Library Journal)
“The very definition of a promising debut.” (Booklist)
I got this audio book because I was interested in the dictionary setting. But my favorite part ended up being the oddball characters, and the narrator's existential quandary about his first steps into adult life.
As you can imagine, anyone who spends all day in silence poring over dictionary definitions and citations is bound to become a little weird ... and the dictionary editors certainly are. But the most enjoyable characters are the ones only loosely connected to the dictionary: the narrator's drunk neighbors, a grumbly old guy (Korean War vet) who comes into the dictionary from time to time, and all the the people who call the dictionary office or write letters with strange questions, such as how to spell "judgement day" on a tattoo, or how the dictionary can help them diagnose whether an embellishment is a pimple or a boil.
I also liked that the writer, Emily Arsenault, respects her readers. The mystery part of the plot isn't overwrought with empty twists and turns, as so many books are these days. It flows naturally, although at times a little ploddingly. The two main characters, a young man and lady, don't automatically fall in love, but struggle through their lack of chemistry and clarity about themselves. And the ending was one of the best parts.
This isn't a book for hard-core mystery readers (it's more literary than mystery) or readers looking for an "addictive page-turner", but it's a pleasant treat. And you do end up learning a lot about words and dictionaries along the way.
I'm looking forward to Emily Arsenault's next book.
I thought this book was reasonably good. I was almost put off by some of the negative reviews. It is true the male narrator's voice is very deadpan. Another commenter complained about the use of a female narrator's voice followed by "she said" as being very off-putting which I only noticed because the comment drew my attention to it. Finally some of the reviews were negative because of all the lexicographical lore in it which is a bit like buying Moby Dick and then complaining about all the stuff about whales. If you are interested in words and dictionaries, it is an interesting angle on a whodunnit. I would not say it was a riveting read but there was enough to it to make me want to listen to the end.
This is an exceptionally engaging story that is set in the most unusual place - a dictionary publishing house. There is lots to be learned by listening to this book! The two lead characters, Billy and Mona, have a very unusual chemistry that, along with the setting make this a very good listen if you are patient. The narration was very good too. The plot unfolds slowly, but the development of the mystery is very clever!
This is a mystery for word lovers. A dictionary research office is the perfect setting for this intelligent mystery. I loved how the story unfolded slowly. I loved how Arsenault used repetition to unravel the mystery and keep her readers informed. The narration is excellent! I am still fairly new to audio books and will now look for books with multiple narrators.
The best part of this novel was the publisher's summary, which got me to buy it. The first 30 minutes or so of the book were somewhat interesting but having the narrator's voice interrupted by someone just reading female dialogue was disconcerting. By the time I got used to that, the story was as dull as Billy's definition of a beauty queen. The murder mystery at the center was not compelling, the "cites" were banal, and none of the characters were fully developed. And if Billy were any more "laid back", he would be in a coma. There were so many side items, such as Billy's neighbors and their domestic issues, Mona's guilt over her family and her crush on Dan, the Korean War tangent, Billy's lymphoma and Billy's dad becoming a pastry chef,that I wondered if an editor ever actually read the manuscript. I was so relieved it when it was over. I think the author owes me an Audible credit.
This book was okay. I was really excited to listen to it based upon the description. I liked the general idea of the plot but just found it lacking in some parts. I think I was looking for a little more excitement rather than detective work.
I thought the narrators did a nice job and enjoyed learning more about lexicography. If you are interested in learning about how a dictionary is created and enjoy a mystery, you'll like this book.
When I listen to a book I want:
1. A reader(s) with a good voice and ability to read without monotony.
2. A good story to hold my interest.
This book fullfills both my requirements. The three readers; Eileen Stevens, Oliver Wyman and Therese Plummer make this more like listening to live theater than listening to a book being read. They are great at bringing the characters to life and keeping the listeners interest.
The story is interesting to anyone with a love of language and it's subtleties. The work of a lexicographer was fascinating to someone not familiar with that profession.
The plot moved at a gentle pace and I never considered the story to be a 'murder mystery'. Arsenault's style reminded me of Annie Tyler and the story unraveled in a way you felt you could possibly know these characters.
I enjoyed this book like a nice cup of tea. The fact that it is written about lexicographers made the use of words throughout fun. The characters were real. The readers engaging. I'm so glad I listened to this book.
Blogger of accidental discoveries through books
The author uses an unusual backdrop to this story, that is, lexicography. The building of the story, piece by piece was at a pace just right for me and the characters were given a wholeness which made the story perfect. Excellent work!
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