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Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable Hardcover – October, 2001
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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 Pne 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.
Top customer reviews
The idea is very clever and I'm sure the author had a whale of a time adhering to the very rules he set up for his characters. In fact, I
am tempted to try writing some letters of my own using his rules.
Underneath the cleverness, however, is a darker story and that is the governmental system the people of this fictional island have somehow chosen too live under, how they have given over their better sense and judgements to the "powers that be" to pronounce edicts, and the consequences that follow. And thus freedoms are lost to these folks. And even more so, they are encouraged to, and do, turn each other in to the authorities. I wonder how this system came to be and figuring that out is one of the reasons I will be re-reading.
Oh, and how resolution and redemption were stumbled upon by a humbler character, rather than through the combined and organized efforts of experts.
So, funny and clever, yes. Also chilling and possibly foretelling.
Then one day the first tile falls, and while most of the citizens of Nollop don't realize it, the statue has been there for a long time, and there's a good chance it's deteriorating. Instead the island citizens believe it is a sign from Nollop beyond the grave. As each tile falls a new letter is banned from the alphabet. The only thing that can save them is a new pangram with thiry-two letters or less. In the face of almost certain banishment, Ella and her friends work their hardest to try to deliver their small island from complete destruction by loss of letters.
I enjoyed this book from start to finish. Mark Dunn is imaginitive and I was very inspired by his incredible use of words. The idea alone, however, was enough to reel me in. Because of my love for words, I can't imagine not being able to use...let's say...the letter "M". My mom's name starts with "M". My dad's name has an "M" in it. My last name, my sister's name, not to mention Monday, or Mugs, or March, May, or November. How would - how could we live like that?
Mark Dunn gives the perfect picture of life without literature, words, and talking. Of abbreviations and offenses against Nevin Nollop. Of underground word organizations and of a sentence puzzle that was the only hope for survival for the small island of Nollop and its literate citizens.