A ridiculous book, masquerading as something intelligent and thought provoking. There are plenty of far better books that raise issues of totalitarianism, censorship versus free speech, superstition versus science, loyalty to friends and family versus loyalty to the state, the power of language etc in more enlightening, entertaining and less gimmicky ways. We are expected to believe that a culture that was built on reverence for the written word destroys all its libraries overnight because one letter fell off a statue what sort of important statue has letters glued on, rather than carved? The punishments are harsh for individuals too — exile for a third offence. Of course, gradually other letters fall off, and they are banned too, hampering communication and creating a culture of fear.
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Dunn has produced something between a crossword puzzle and a witty political allegory. And we forget that the novel is only playful. Soon we see that a void, a blankness, awaits us.
It is a sweet-natured piece And it is hard to identify, for this is pure allegory. Animal Farm, written for a simpler ideological world, was easy. But are we talking about religious fundamentalism here a latter-day Tale of a Tub? The collapse of literacy? Or are we allegorising allegory? Who knows? Perhaps Dunn is lambasting evil men who would suppress lipograms. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole.
We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure. Still, mention must be made, explanations proffered. The original subtitle for the book for the hardcover edition was: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable. This has been simplified fairly cleverly, and almost adequately for the paperback edition to: A Novel in Letters. Ella Minnow Pea is a tale related entirely in the letters the characters send to one another hence: an epistolary novel.
It is a challenging form, but Dunn manages to convey the action very well in this manner -- and, indeed, the book could hardly be told as effectively without these letters.
A lipogram is -- as helpfully defined at the beginning of the book -- "a written work composed of words selected so as to avoid the use of one or more letters of the alphabet". As time passes in the novel, less and less letters of the alphabet are at the disposal of the characters, and so letter-writing and any communication becomes ever more complicated. All this sounds far more complex and ridiculous than what readers might want to put up with.
It is named after Nevin Nollop, revered for his discovery of the pangram: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. This one is considered so remarkable because of its brevity, using all 26 letters of the alphabet in a character sentence. The islanders revere language. They are still "a nation of letter-writers", and make a great effort to express themselves well and clearly.
Their letters are thus a bit They live in a sort of literary paradise, where the written word is highly regarded and mass media, TV, and schlock have not debased life.
Then disaster strikes. A memorial was erected to Nollop on the island -- a statue, with his immortal sentence printed out in tiles on the pedestal. One day the tile with letter "Z" falls off. And the ruling five-man Council decide this is a message from Nollop himself, that henceforth he wants the islanders to do without the letter Zed.
It is outlawed. It can no longer be used in writing or in speech. Any writing which has a "Z" in it is to be destroyed. And they adapt, sending Z-less letters now.
Things quickly escalate, as another tile drops off, then another, then another in ever quicker succession. Communication becomes ever-more complicated, transgressions and banishments take a huge toll. The language-idyll that was Nollop becomes a totalitarian nightmare almost overnight. Only one thing can save the island: the Council acts as it does because it believes the falling tiles are the work of god-Nollop himself.
His discovery of the great pangram is testament and proof of his linguistic genius and leadership -- but if another pangram, of equal length or shorter can be found then it would prove that he was not all-knowing and infallible. Dunn has fashioned a real novel here -- wordplay just happens to be at the centre of it.
The characters do come alive, even as the language is deadened, and their daily concerns are very nicely rendered. And the book zips along quickly enough that the wordplay does not get tiresome. Ella Minnow Pea is also a very effective allegory of totalitarianism. The way power can easily be abused even in what appears to be a cultured, civilized nation is nicely demonstrated. This is a simple, utterly engaging tale, a quick and always enjoyable read, a strikingly clever book, and more.
It is a very ambitious novel, and it succeeds completely in everything it sets out to do. A remarkable achievement.
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Plot summary[ edit ] The plot is conveyed through mail or notes sent between various characters. As letters disappear, the novel becomes more and more phonetically or creatively spelled, and requires more effort to interpret. The novel is set on the fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina , which is home to Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram , " The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The council accepts this and restores the right to all 26 letters to the populace. Her name is a play on words as it sounds like the pronunciation of the letters "LMNOP", fitting with the content of the novel. She is a strong and intelligent young woman who uses her determination and persistence to survive the hardship placed on the island of Nollop by the high council. Towards the end of the novel, she is the only one in her family left on the island and is in charge of Enterprise
ELLA MINNOW PEA