Gypsi, June 6, 2010 (view all comments by Gypsi)
Ella Minnow Pea was written as a series of letters and notes and therefore was a quick, easy read--only took me a day and a half. I highly recommend it to fellow logophiles, as it had interesting, witty and subtly humorous word usage.
It's about a small nation that (for reasons better explained by the book) loses the use of certain letters of the alphabet, one at a time. As the letters become unavailable in the story, they disappear in the writing as well.
It did get a little tough to read for the last few pages, when the letters were very scarce and the words spelled phonetically, but it was well worth finishing.
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Shoshana, June 15, 2009 (view all comments by Shoshana)
A clever novel that is probably more fun for linguaphiles than for the general reader. The premise is that a tiny island nation off the coast of the U.S. has been constituted around Nollop, the originator of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The community eschews or lacks many modern conveniences (such as reliable telephone service), priding itself on its linguistic erudition. The novel is told in, and about, letters; the tiles spelling out the sentence begin to drop from Nollop's statue. The community leaders' response is more mystical than empirical and literary entertainment ensues as each fallen letter is forbidden. Though the plot mocks religious, power-grabbing governments that abrogate civil rights and freedom of expression on the basis of dogma (insert "lazy dog" joke here), it also includes much language play. As some of the citizens, including the eponymous Ella Minnow Pea, race to construct another pangram against the lipogrammatic clock, the reader may enjoy the characters' sophisticated vocabularies and circumlocutory heroics. The reader familiar with pangrams may spot the plot resolution before the characters do.
My only complaint is that I do not believe that, even with the use of exempted 7-year-olds, the attempt to construct the alternative pangrams would have been permitted by the Council.
Read with Abish's "Alphabetical Africa" for a different kind of lipogram game, and with concordiform novels such as Marlowe's "How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z" to increase your appreciation for the challenges inherent in presenting a coherent narrative in a linguistically constrained structure.
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Originally subtitled "A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable," Mark Dunn's brilliantly conceived and cleverly written Ella Minnow Pea is a logophile's dream novel. Composed entirely of letters, this is the playful story of Nollop, a fictional island named for Nevin Nollop, creator of the popular pangram, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Having erected a statue to honor his achievement, the island's council then begins to ban the use of certain letters as they fall, one by one, from the memorial's facade. Ella, confronted with the encroaching totalitarianism of the council, urges the island's residents to resist the decree and rebel against the enforced censorship. Though quaint and lighthearted on its surface, this parable quietly addresses the issues of tyranny, unchecked bureaucracy, freedom of speech, and the responsibility of citizenship.
by Susan Wasson, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM,
"A treasure of a novel. Dunn has an incredibly fascinating and clever way of using the English language, with or without all the letters of the alphabet. This witty satire and moving fable is a must-read for everyone who loves words... and free speech!"
by The Christian Science Monitor,
"There's the whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea."
by Myla Goldberg,
"A love letter to alphabetarians and logomaniacs everywhere."
by The Philadelphia Inquirer,
"A curiously compelling...satire of human foibles, and a light-stepping commentary on censorship and totalitarianism."
by Dallas Morning Herald,
"This exceptional, zany book will quickly make you laugh."
by Detroit Free Press,
"Ella Minnow Pea is a witty fable, but it's also a satire about censorship among other things....[T]he book should give us plenty to think about."
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
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