American debut by British writer Scott that mordantly limns the loves and lives of contemporary London's chattering classes. More a series of self-contained set-pieces that highlight a particular set of foibles and events than a conventional narrative, the novel doesn't bring all the disparate characters together until the end, when protagonist Alice throws a book party. In the beginning, however: When fellow wordsmith and lover Peter steals Alice's best verbal creations, she's so shocked by the violation that she temporarily abandons her apartment and becomes a bag-lady surrounded by her bags of treasured words. The theft makes her realize that the conventional definition of burglary does not apply to ``someone who is already in who takes things out.'' Words are obviously important to Alice, who's rescued from her depression by Mike, a real thief, who proceeds to use her apartment as a warehouse. The relationship lasts long enough to give Alice the idea of compiling a dictionary in which words mean what she wants them to. She begins working at a dictionary publishing house, staffed by characters that include Rosemary, a tough left-wing activist who secretly would like a man to take care of her; Henry, whose hobby is the geology of London; and Douglas, who spends his weekends refighting battles with model soldiers. Alice keeps working on her dictionary and tries to make up for Mike's absence by visiting an old teacher, attending a women's group, and participating in a TV game show. We're also introduced to Sara, who dreams of murdering her irritating mother, and Bert, who wants to be a famous comedian. Then, with her dictionary finally published, Alice has an epiphany: she's a loner--people are like words, it's the space between them that really ``intrigued'' her. A witty sendup of semantics and urban trendies in a well-drawn postmodern London.