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Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable Hardcover – October, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

laywright Dunn tries his hand at fiction in this "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable," and the result is a novel bursting with creativity, neological mischief and clever manipulation of the English language. The story takes place in the present day on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina, where over a century earlier, the great Nevin Nollop invented a 35-letter panagram (a phrase, sentence or verse containing every letter in the alphabet). As the creator of "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," Nollop was deified for his achievement. The island's inhabitants live an anachronistic existence, with letter-writing remaining the principal form of communication. Life seems almost utopian in its simplicity until letters of the alphabet start falling from the inscription on the statue erected in Nollop's honor, and the island's governing council decrees that as each letter falls, it must be extirpated from both spoken and written language. Forced to choose from a gradually shrinking pool of words, the novel's protagonists a family of islanders seek ways to communicate without employing the forbidden letters. A band of intrepid islanders forms an underground resistance movement; their goal is to create a shorter panagram than Nollop's original, thereby rescinding the council's draconian diktat. The entire novel consists of their letters to each other, and the messages grow progressively quirkier and more inventive as alternative spellings ("yesters" for "yesterday") and word clusters ("yellow sphere" for "sun") come to dominate the language. Dunn obviously relishes the challenge of telling a story with a contracting alphabet. Though frequently choppy and bizarre, the content of the letters can easily be deciphered, a neat trick that elicits smiles. Wordsmiths of every stripe will appreciate this whimsical fable, in which Dunn brilliantly demonstrates his ability to delight and captivate.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-With shades of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and William PŠne du Bois, Ella Minnow Pea is delightfully clever from start to finish. It's set on Nollop, a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina named for its long-dead founder, Nevin Nollop, the "genius" who came up with "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." A huge cenotaph of Nollop's sentence stands over the town square-and one day, the "z" falls to the ground. Nollop's elected-for-life Council interprets this as a missive from beyond the grave, "that the letter `Z' should be utterly excised-fully extirpated-absolutely heave-ho'ed from our communal vocabulary!" Other letters soon follow, and the novel becomes progressively lipogrammatic (a "lipogram" being writing in which one or more letters are forbidden), told exclusively in the form of letters from one citizen to another as they struggle to adapt (a third offense means banishment). Not even the discovery that the glue holding the letters up is calcifying sways the zealots on the Council (perhaps Nollop intended its deterioration). It's decided that only the construction of another sentence that uses every alphabet letter in only 32 graphemes could discredit Nollop's "divine" word. Dunn plays his setup to the hilt, and the result is perfect for teens fond of wicked wit, wordplay, and stories that use the absurd to get at the serious.
Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 205 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0967370167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0967370163
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #195,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
How about something refreshingly original, amazingly creative, wholeheartedly unique? Or maybe something containing whimsically plausible characters encasing hearty penchants for the written word and appetites for poetically stimulating language usage? Look no further! Read Ella Minnow Pea for a divine, utterly addictive, and monumentally appealing perusing experience.
In the fictional island of Nollop, home to the late, great Nevin Nollop, inventor of the sentence, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog," a pangram that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet, there's an uprising going on! Seems the monument depicting said sentence (in an effort to memorialize the citizens' esteemed island founder) is falling apart, letter by letter. High Council members determine this as a word from the great beyond, a way of communicating to us Nollop's wishes to eradicate that certain letter from use -- verbally or written. As an island full of people who use letter-writing and communication as an art form, these wishes could only spell 'demise.' If only there was a way to prove the tiles' falling as an act of faulty cement glue....
Ella Minnow Pea is an extraordinary book of letters from one citizen to the next that increase in hilarity and difficulty as each letter of the alphabet is increasingly banned from use. Mark Dunn is an extremely talented writer in my eyes, especially given this amazing task to expand his vocabulary beyond normal conversation. Have your Thesauruses handy -- Ella Minnow Pea will take you on quite an intellectual journey.
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Format: Hardcover
I am only half way through this book, which I must say reads very quickly, but I decided to have another look at the reviews of this book. After all, it was because of those reviews that I bought this book.
It concerns me, that those few readers who look beyond the humourous aspect of this book, still don't spend much time commenting upon the subtext - the loss of freedom. Not only are certain letters banned from use, but the high-minded governing Council, impose very strict punishments for anyone found using any of the banned letters, and a very strict adherence to those punishments, even to the extent of exiling nationals.
This novel shows how all too easy it is for innocent members of any group to be caught up in the fanaticism of a governing body, when that body believes that it is doing right. Look at any difficult political situation in the world today, and somewhere there is an element of fanaticism.
Whilst I am sure that Mark Dunn is very happy that people are enjoying the comic side to his novel, I guess he did not intend it to overshadow the deeper message.
This is a very enjoyable, very clever novel, but when you read it, don't forget that any of us could find ourselves in a similar situation very easily.
(Also, to the reviewer who suggested keeping a dictionary to hand, working out what is being said is probably supposed to be part of the enjoyment. You do not need a dictionary.)
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Format: Hardcover
Speak or write the letter "z", first offense-public reprimand, second offense-public flogging or the stockades, third offense-deportment from the island of Nollop. If you refuse to go, death is the punishment.
"Ella Minnow Pea" is quite possibly the most original book I have ever read. Mark Dunn's first novel is highly creative, insiteful, with a touch of political undercurrents. Written in the form of letter correspondences, it is a quick and entertaining read. As letters become outlawed, they do in fact drop from the book, not making it harder to read (as was my worry) but only adding to its charm. "Ella Minnow Pea" will even give you a new appreciation for that wonderful thing we call the alphabet, as well as put a smile on your face. So, find out the fate of the alphabet and the citizens of Nollop and read this book!
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Format: Hardcover
The poor reviews of this book reflect a sad tendency: the expectation that novels should tell us exactly what they are about so that we don't have to go to the trouble of figuring it out for ourselves - or, god forbid, that a book should have layered meanings, or leave things open to interpretation.

This book, however, is a finely written treatise in novel form (pun intended) about totalitarianism, repression, the effects of repression on society and what happens when complacent and fearful society doesn't fight back early and hard. A great gift for friends and family who like to think.
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Format: Hardcover
This creative, intriguing novel follows the swift disintegration of an imaginary civilization when the letters on a statue they revere begin to fall, and their island government deems this a sign that they are to no longer use these letters in speech or writing.
The novel is written in the form of epistles, and as the story progresses we see the struggles of the correspondents to communicate without using the forbidden letters.
The book can be read as a cautionary tale, a political and/or religious allegory about censorship, idolatry, and the ease with which unwise laws can be passed, often unwittingly. The result of forbidding people to use certain letters of the alphabet is catastrophic; it results in physical punishment, exile, the breakup of families and loss of property -- even death.
Yet this novel is also a creative and entertaining read, uplifting and, in places, humorous. I highly recommend it to anyone who is fascinated with language.
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