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Ella Minnow Pea : A Novel in Letters by Mark…
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Ella Minnow Pea : A Novel in Letters (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Mark Dunn

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,9002102,865 (3.89)404
Member:justmelissa
Title:Ella Minnow Pea : A Novel in Letters
Authors:Mark Dunn
Info:Anchor (2002), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library, 2005
Rating:***1/2
Tags:2005/06, contemporary fiction, gimmick fiction, dystopia, language

Work details

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn (2001)

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English (210)  Dutch (1)  All languages (211)
Showing 1-5 of 210 (next | show all)
The ruling elders of the tiny island of Nollop have decreed that their deceased town founder, Nevin Nollop, is the One True God, and he lets his will be known by making letters fall off his commemorative statue. Each time a letter falls, island residents may no longer use it in speech or in writing. It does not help that Nollop is the putative originator of the sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog," and that this sentence appears on his memorial.

Beyond the wordplay, this lipogrammatic story can be read as an satire of ecclesiastical arrogance or government overreach. The gimmick gets a little strained at the end, but still this book rewards the short amount of time it takes to read it. ( )
  akblanchard | Aug 9, 2018 |
I started this book three days ago and couldn't put it down. It's a short read, but not an easy read. I thought it was absolutely fantastic.

This book was recommended in a group of writers that I was a part of on Facebook. They were looking for books similar to this one that played games with the English language. Alas, no one commented on the post, but as I had never heard of the book in question, I was intrigued. I picked this novel up at my very next trip to the bookstore.

In this novella, an island nation that reveres the written word is suddenly thrown into chaos when the High Council of the island begins to systematically ban letters of the alphabet. When a letter is banned, it can neither be spoken or written. Those who break the edicts are severely sanctioned by the council. The entire novel takes place in the letters and correspondences between friends, families, and members of the community. The plot unfolds solely through these characters' writings to one another. Sometimes these writings are a letter in the mail. Sometimes it's a note left on a fridge or pushed under a door. As the novel proceeds, these correspondences become increasingly devoid of letters as the council bans letter after letter even as the citizens try desperately to continue to communicate with one another.

Deftly wound in this story that makes fun use of words is the same very dire warning Lord Acton once wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." There are elements of authoritarianism about the island's High Council (which I find laughingly appropriate given that the topic of the book is letters which are being banned). And there are even elements that weave a chilling cautionary tale about the dangers -- even evils -- of religion in politics. This book is certainly a social commentary wrapped in a much lighter tale.

I loved this book very, very much. I will read it again, and probably again after that. The word-choices in this book are very intellectual, reflecting the citizens' exuberance for the English language. Being something of a lover of lexicons myself, I had no trouble understanding the prose, and indeed, I loved it.

I highly recommend this! ( )
  KitKatReed | Jun 29, 2018 |
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is a hilariously quirky exploration of free speech, and what happens when it gets taken away. Full of whimsy and guaranteed to make you smile! I enjoyed this book so much, that I tend to re-read it every now and again - just to renew my appreciation for letters and words.

It's a quick and fun read, won't take you much time at all, but be ready for tongue twisting silliness that increases in hilarity as the book goes on. A must-read for any lover of the English language. ( )
1 vote Bookapotamus | Jun 27, 2018 |
Definitely a quick and clever read. Any longer and the "gimmick" would have gotten really old, but an interesting story that walks the line between serious commentary and amusing tale. ( )
  Shansky | May 19, 2018 |
I was going to write tis post tee wae lotsa Ella Minnow Pea is written… I’ll spare ewe (also me).

Ella lives on Nollop, an island near South Carolina named after Nevin Nollop (whose claim to fame is the authorship of the phrase “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nollop contains a statue of Nevin along with his famous phrase. However, the letters of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” begin to drop off and shatter, with horrifying consequences. It becomes forbidden for any resident to write or speak a word containing a letter no longer found on the monument. Any person who uses a forbidden letter risks being placed in a headstock, lashed, or even banished.

As more and more letters vanish, the situation becomes dire and communication becomes increasingly difficult. Council agrees that if – and only if – someone can come up with another phrase shorter than Nevin Nollop’s that uses all of the letters of the alphabet, things can go back to the way they were.

Ella Minnow Pea is told through letters – primarily those exchanged by Ella and her cousin Tassie but also including correspondences from a variety of people involved. And, most intriguingly, as letters become forbidden, so too do they vanish from the novel. The book starts normally – albeit a bit verbose for my liking. By close to the end, it is almost unreadable. Ella mentions that she finds it too tiring to “sae watt I most sae in langwage one mae onterstant.”

The idea behind the book is fantastic, reminding me of childhood favourites like The Phantom Tollbooth and The Number Devil. With main characters in their late teens and early twenties, though, Ella Minnow Pea falls squarely into my age range. I love the idea of using progressively fewer letters to tell a story. The way the characters coped with it – from unusual vocabulary choices to phonetic substitutions – was sometimes difficult to read but still enjoyable. I can’t even imagine how painstaking this must have been to write.

And, most of all, I loved how Nollop’s government elevated Nevin Nollop to god-like status. This isn’t just a book that plays with language and uses creative spelling: it’s about religious fundamentalism and totalitarian governments.

Having said all of that, this book was not my cup of tea.
1. The entire plot seems to ignore an extremely obvious solution. Someone needs to come up with a pangram shorter than Nevin Nollop’s? Eliminate a superfluous “the.” “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is two letters shorter than Nollop’s original sentence. “Quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is even shorter. Problem solved. I kept on waiting for someone to bring this up or offer some explanation for why this wasn’t a possibility. No one did.
2. The book seems to conflate written and spoken language a bit. When the Z is gone, why is it illegal to say “realize” but not “is” (which contains the same /z/ sound)? Why can’t people just be pronouncing “realise” instead? Why does this apply to both written and spoken words when there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence of letters to speech sounds? Why don’t people start using some aspects of sign language? Or languages that don’t use the same alphabet? Or, in that case, would you be able to write the words but not speak them? Or could you just start using some characters from the phonetic alphabet? Or…? Maybe the flaws in logic were deliberate, to illustrate how little the government had considered its new laws. Maybe the author just overlooked them. Either way, as I was reading, I got more and more tied up in written vs. spoken language, which distracted me from…
3. …the writing style. And the writing style needed a lot of attention. The unusual words, the way the voice sounded the same regardless of who was writing the letters, the frequent telling instead of showing… all of this combined to make the book a dense read. I found myself skimming to get ahead. And then I hit the point where everything was sounded out with multiple substitutions, and I had to stop and painstakingly read sentences aloud before I knew what was happening. I don’t mind it when prose challenges me, but wow, this was not the light and easy read that some reviews would have me believe.
4. There were some grammatical errors. Come on, in this of all books, you’d think the author and the editor would be more careful.

In a nutshell, I liked the idea behind this book. The execution? Not so much. Ella Minnow Pea could have benefitted from some closer attention to detail… or it would have been a fantastic short story. ( )
  bucketofrhymes | Dec 13, 2017 |
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Epigraph
In the beginning was the Word.

- Gospel of John, Chapter 1, Verse 1
The wicked peon quivered,

then gazed balefully at the judges

who examined him.

- Anonymous Typesetter
Dedication
For Mary
First words
Nollopton. Sunday, July 23. Dear Cousin Tassie, Thank you for the lovely postcards.
Quotations
For the present, it is easier for us to turn away. Our repulsion, you see, will not spur us to revolt until this plague moves much closer to home.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Book description
Haiku summary
Letters about a
Sign with letters that fall off.
Let her freedom ring.
(_debbie_)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385722435, Paperback)

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:33 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The language-loving inhabitants of a South Carolina island interpret the falling of the letter "Z" from a beloved monument as a divine warning not to use the letter any longer. But catastrophe is imminent when the other letters in the monument--which contains the entire alphabet--begin falling one by one.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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