Friday, April 15, 2016

Reader's Diary #1295- Mark Dunn: Ella Minnow Pea


The subtitle for Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea is A Novel in Letters. While it is an epistolary novel, there's a clever reason besides drawing attention to that fact; the novel is also about letters, the alphabetical sort.

Already you know this is a fun book with a LOT of wordplay.

Set on the fictional island country of Nollop, named after Nevin Nollop, the creator behind that typewriter-ific phrase The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, clearly this is a people who also enjoy language.

However, they are also a superstitious people. One day a letter falls from a cenotaph bearing the aforementioned phrase above Nollop's memorial statue. Some interpret this as a sign from Nollop that the letter (Z) is to be banished from their language. The island's Council makes it official: Z cannot be spoken, nor written. Of course, people are up in arms about it and not everyone agrees with the Council's divine interpretation, but the punishments are severe and so most do their best to cooperate. The letter is also dropped from the book.

Before long however, more and more letters begin to fall. Just as you think Dunn is going to take the easy way out, eliminating the rare letters first (which would be so coincidental that divine influence might be necessary), a D falls. By now people are protesting, people are slipping up and being punished, and others are quitting the island altogether.

It's humorous and very engaging. Beyond the word play, I appreciated the great vocabulary of those telling the story. Someone comments that they all speak in a funny, formal way and that would be accurate. It helps them, especially, when letters start to fall that many are able to still finds words with which to communicate without it becoming too awkward too fast (rest assured, it does become very awkward toward the end). It also makes the idea that a language worshiping culture such as this could plausibly develop such an unhealthy obsession.

Plus themes of religion, censorship, dictatorships and all of that jazz allow for many a discussion.

My only issue is that it focused too much on those opposed to the new laws. In effect, it came across that only a very small Council were in belief of Nollop's divinity and in support of the laws. As such, it made it seem very implausible that they wouldn't have been overthrown very quickly and very easily.

Shyamalanian loop holes aside, it was an enjoyably different read.

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