Monday, October 22, 2012

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
Publication Date: September 17, 2002
Publisher: September 17, 2002
Pages: 208
Keywords: letters, books, dystopia
Format read: paperback via PaperBackSwap
Get It: Book Depository
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 phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, "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.
One of my friends that I work with in the Publications office here at school told me about this novel, and I knew I had to read it. I received it a few weeks ago via PaperBackSwap and finished it over my fall break. I was very excited to read it for several reasons:
1. The sentence and author that the story revolves around? I'm learning about him and using his principles in my typography class this semester.
2. I love language. I love that this entire fictitious island revolved around letter-writing and the reverence of words and the ways they are used.
3. I was also extremely curious to see which letters would go first, and which ones the author was bold enough to eliminate fairly early on in the novel.

I was so pleased with the result. The first few letters did a wonderful job with setting the scene, introducing the characters that would play a big role, and letting the readers know a little bit about the world in which they live without being very obviously that. There were quite a few letters before a letter actually fell off the statue, so it wasn't too much to jump into. And there was a good amount of spacing between when each letter fell off. I also liked how the characters worked to try to solve the problem on their own.

Another interesting point about the book — the author didn't pretend that the US didn't exist, and I liked that. He acknowledged the fact that it was weird this society didn't really use modern technology, and the contiguous states didn't really understand that. There were brief insertions about how the States were trying to understand what was happening on Nollop, but at the same time, they couldn't figure out why it was so devastating to the society. There was also an outsider that attempted to help at some point, and he seemed extremely fascinating. I wish I could have seen him more, but as it's an epistolary novel, it's kind of hard to truly develop the characters.

That's really the only thing I wanted to change about this. I loved the letters, but this could have been such an interesting story had it been expanded as an actual novel with letters interspersed in the text. That would have given Dunn more room for developed characters and plot lines, and a much more in depth text of the events that occurred when the letters began falling off the statue.

Nonetheless, this was such a quaint little book that I dearly loved.

Read When: You're ready for a really uniquely written novel, and not just plots and characters, but how the novel is written. It's a delight.

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