An inventive epistolary and lipogrammatic novel mixing the prisoner s constraint, pangrams, and neologisms to form an Oulipian feast Perhaps a little Oulipo lite Perhaps But the prose is impressive and despite the partial cheat towards the end using phonetic sounds for words the lipogram is successful and the plot something of a statement about censorship and the privilege we have in the West to use our language to express whatever we wish and abuse this on a word by word basis As someone who has attempted an alphabetical lipogram running from A Z and back again and published here , Dunn s feat deserves our respect and enthusiastic handclaps. Ella Minnow Pea is a girl who lives on a small island off the coast of South Carolina This nation state, named Nollop after its founder, seems idyllic Suddenly, for no apparent reason, tiles begin to tumble from Nollop s monument, and the Council interprets these as pardon the pun letters from heaven But the island paradise soon degenerates into a totalitarian regime as hellish as anything conceived by George Orwell.This, as other reviewers have noted, is a parable about the exercise of human rights and especially free speech But it s also a celebration of language, full of neologisms, alternate spellings, unexpected twists, quirky characters and just plain whimsy. 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 Pangram, 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 The Result Is Both A Hilarious And Moving Story Of One Girl S Fight For Freedom Of Expression, As Well As A Linguistic Tour De Force Sure To Delight Word Lovers Everywhere Pangram A Sentence Or Phrase That Includes All The Letters Of The Alphabet Ella Minnow Pea LMNOP is a broad satire, which is conspicuous in loudly broadcasting its themes of the consequences of unfettered political power dictated to a country fascism with its resulting creeping loss of rights which become the new normal, as well as neighbourly reporting and ridiculously contrived punishable offences to incite fear and maintain absolute power But once you have that nicely established, you can get down to the idiosyncratic local tale on the island of Nollop, named after the esteemed author of the pangram, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog The citizens are noteworthy due to their relative isolation of a century from America, after settling with their leader Nollop In fact, those who live stateside can find these citizens difficult to understand As a reader we are privy to correspondence between its people, in the form of letters, technology and telephones unavailable to them A crisis of great magnitude is conceived by the island council when a tile bearing the letter Z falls from the celebrated sentence beneath the effigy of Nevin Nollop It will not repaired because this must be a terrestrial manifestation Rather, Z will be excised from the vocabulary The eloquent and verbose Nollopians, whose vocabulary is reminiscent of that of a well educated, upper class and perhaps scholarly individual from the early 1900s, don t take this well They are astounded when all the bees are removed from the island and the apiary owner charged with violations, for describing the sound they make The fulsome language of Ella, writing to her cousin Tassie about this, includes words familiar only within their island culture For the bees speak the offending letter as their wont They sing it into the hills, our ears ringing with its scissoresonance Of course and tiles fall, making conversation and writing even difficult The library is shut down, denuded of books which don t comply Town and village people are banished after three violations the councillors now call themselves The Pentapriests in respect of the lost letters With the absence of C and K , one character writes to another in thanks appreciation for the pullet soup, use of synonyms being a matter of survival and saviour of property which is being absconded by the bureaucrats for themselves Help arrives and a solution is found but not before the struggle to communicate becomes terribly arduous and hilariously phonetic there being only scant letters to work with ewe are propaplee reating mie last letter to ewe It is simplee too tiring to write To sae watt I most sae in langwage one mae onterstant I am so sorree Alwaes, Ella.Ella Minnow Pea, A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn was written in 2001 and has a timeless appeal It is taught in schools there are Sparks notes on the Internet It is broad satire woven with the intricate detail of wordsmithery that s a neologism, a made up word and a portmanteau word hybrid of two The simple tale is deceivingly complex, its wordplay an art in itself And the result is quaint, goofy and unlike anything else I have ever read I did experience intimations of Gulliver s Travels , lurking in the shadows How could it not Island, politics, strange language and Yahoos But Ella Minnow Pea is much fun Autocorrect was a real PAIN in the keister with this review You think Hahaha I found this book at the Wilderness Library and very nearly didn t buy it Just looking at the title, the words didn t exactly compute and I thought, hmmm, this book seems kind of silly Then I read A Novel in Letters and my shameless snoop side came out I love, love, love reading books that are comprised of letters, I feel like I m really snooping in someone s mail or diaries, and it makes it so interesting So I picked up Ella and on my way to the car, said the title out loud and the light went on.The story is one of letters, literally, written in letters between various people The fictional town of Nollop is facing a crisis Named after Nevin Nollop who famously coined the phrase The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog , a statue to its founder in town is falling to pieces Specifically, letters on tiles comprising the famous sentence are falling off the statue, and the town council has taken that as a sign The citizenry is officially banned from using any letter which falls off the sign Failure to restrict use of those letters results first in lashing, and then in banishment from the island They may neither speak nor write the offending letters It starts out fairly simply, with the letter Z, but eventually and letters drop and it becomes harder and harder to write and speak I won t reveal how it is resolved, but it was an excellent story and one that I only wish I had had the cleverness to invent myself It s a fairly short book as well, so you could read it pretty quickly if you wanted to Fun and funny, definitely a book for people who love words Take up the town s challenge yourself and see if you can come up with a sentence Original ReviewGeorges Perec wrote a novel without using the letter e even once Dunn works a similar gimmick by writing this epistolary novel about an island that bans the use of certain letters as these drop off, one by one, from the statute of the creator of the phrase, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog Z is the first to go, then Q , then J Things get really difficult, however, when D falls off Speech, indeed communication of any kind, gets increasingly difficult as the island s Council decrees that words that contain the offending letters must not, on pain of banishment or death, be written or even uttered All the horrors of the police state are invoked as neighbours tell on neighbours, and a censor is appointed to read through all of the islanders communication Even religious fundamentalism gets a swipe since the Council treat Nollop, the phrase s creator, as well a Creator What a charming little fable about the importance of free speech Charming, and ultimately, irrelevant This is not to say that I think that governments should be entitled to silence opponents by throwing them in jail or torturing them But those are crude measures used nowadays only by political troglodytes Welcome to the brave new world where opponents of free speech have learnt that the best way to undermine free speech is to render it worthless When everything including outright fabrication and lies can be said, then nothing is said Doublethink and duckspeak ain t nothing compared to that In the name of the right to free speech, speech been rendered truly free, but only in the sense that it has no value any Step right up, folks Get your free speech here That s right, folks, we re giving it away Updates below sorted by date newest first Update 14 February 2014 Lest anyone think that I m for censorship, here s an example of censorship I depore The successful right wing bullying by the conservative Hindu group, Shiksha Bachao Andolan, of Penguin India leading to it pulling and pulping a scholarly work, Wendy Doniger sThe Hindus An Alternative HistoryUpdate 3 February 2014 Oooh, lookie, free speech in France a recent obscene internet and text campaign persuaded hundreds of French parents that the government wanted primary school children to masturbate in class many of yesterday s marchers swallow wholesale the distortions pedalled by Mr Soral and by Catholic extremists in recent months on la th orie du genre or gender theory They demanded the withdrawal of a pilot programme in four areas of France which seeks to steer primary school boys and girls away from gender stereotypes This apparently modest programme consists of trying to persuade girls that they can perfectly well drive tractors and boys that they can be ballet dancers if they want to Harmless Not as far as the marchers were concerned It was this programme which was the subject of the obscene rumour spread by text and online a few days ago by Mr Soral s lieutenant, Farida Belghoul Texts, tweets and emails persuaded hundreds of mostly black and Muslim parents that there would be masturbation and cross dressing in primary schools.How long do you think these people who use free speech to incite hate and spread lies will allow speech to remain free if they win Update 20 Dec 2013 Here s another random thought on unfettered free speech One foundational linch pin in the pro free speech platform is that truth will win out over lies But, as with most ideas, this turns out to be theory than fact So, how does one deal with the fact that lies have a surprisingly tenacious ability to stay alive, especially in this age of the internet 27 Percent of Surgeons Still Think Obamacare Has Death Panels.Update 2 Oct 2013 The US government shutdown today is being done in opposition to Obamacare Given the idea that Obama care is The Final Solution see the image below , it is not surprising that purist politicians have a take no prisoners attitude After all, one cannot compromise with the Devil Proponents of free speech frequently ignore the impact of lies on passions and emotions, of the inability of people to process information rationally and logically How many in the WEIRD countries are aware of the tragedy sweeping through Myanmar right now because radical Buddhists have been spreading lies about their fellow Muslims citizens People are being killed and burnt alive because of these lies.We celebrate the ability of the internet to topple Arab governments Here s the flip side of that The most sinister change in the way war is perceived springs from what two years ago seemed to be a wholly positive development Satellite television and the use of information supplied by YouTube, bloggers and social media were portrayed as liberating innovations The monopoly on information imposed by police states from Syria to Egypt and Bahrain to Tunisia had been broken But as the course of the uprising in Syria has shown, satellite television and the internet also spread propaganda and hate Fraudulent atrocity stories have an effect on a war a Libyan militiaman who believes that the government soldiers he is fighting are under orders to rape his wife and daughters isn t going to take many prisoners.The situation has grown worse since Libya The YouTube war showing atrocities on both sides has outpaced the actual war in Syria as an influence on both rebels and government supporters Satellite channels such as al Jazeera depend on these propaganda clips Many of the atrocities are real Rebels can see film of mass graves of people killed by poison gas or children writhing in pain from napalm burns In government held parts of Damascus people don t go out much in the evening but sit at home watching footage of captured government soldiers being decapitated or Christian priests and Alawite soldiers having their throats cut Much of this footage is real but not all A correspondent in south east Turkey recently visited a Syrian refugee camp where he found ten year old children watching a YouTube clip of two men being executed with a chainsaw The commentary claimed that the victims were Syrian Sunnis and the killers were Alawites in fact the film was from Mexico and the murders had been carried out by a drug lord to intimidate his rivals.The diet of snuff movies helps explain the ferocity of the conflict in Syria and the degree of hatred and terror on both sides It also explains why the two sides find it so difficult to talk to each other How would Union soldiers in the American Civil War have reacted if they had repeatedly watched film of a Confederate commander cutting open the body of a dead private in the Union army and eating his heart Too much of the debate about free speech is unnuanced and hysterical, with no considered discussion being given to its darker sides The slippery slope argument is pulled out again and again in support of rampant, unfettered free speech Supporters of unfettered free speech seem unwilling to grapple with or even admit its darker, less savoury consequences, seemingly preferring instead to pretend that these don t exist The tragic consequences of a dictatorship which censures and censors have been well and fully ventilated It might help to remember that as with all things in life, humans are than capable of using ANY tool for both good AND ill. Dunn s first novel is a book of letters in senses than one It is a fairly traditional epistolary, yes, but it also toys with the letters of the alphabet the wordy citizens of the island nation of Nollop are zealously engaged in creating pangrams pithy sentences that contain each letter of the alphabet in tribute to their founder Nevin Nollop, who authored The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, the original pangram displayed in ceramic tiles on his statue in the public square But things go awry when particular letters start falling off the monument.A superstitious lot, the Nollop Council decide that the fallen letters can no longer be used, and so the characters missives become increasingly constrained as they have to avoid certain vowels and consonants Their writing grows exponentially avant garde and hilarious as they resort to circumlocutions, phonetic spellings, and not quite right synonyms as is the case with Christian B k s poetry collection of univocal lipograms, Eunoia which I reviewed here , extreme creativity often arises out of a tough linguistic stricture.Before long only L, M, N, O, and P can be used which, handily, still allows for an approximation of the title character s name, but offers very few other coherent language options Like Ibid and Eunoia, Ella Minnow Pea is a madcap journey through the English language and its use in literature enjoy the ride. This book has been on my to read list for a long time It sounded interesting a book in which the characters revere language and the alphabet, and when letters fall from the statue that celebrates their culture, they are also dropped from the novel.I m pleased to report, first of all, that this book is wholesome, despite being on the national market and not just the LDS one so many books I ve picked up this year I ve had to return to the library, unread.And this book is good to boot It s like push ups for your brain At first, the work out was to make sense of the vocabulary enfused text then, as the letters drop and ideas are conveyed creatively even through the use of phonetic near matches e.g worriet instead of worried , I felt a bit like I was playing MadGab.The novel is a quick read many of the 208 pages were actually almost entirely blank and an interesting story, as well It s amazing to me how Dunn was able to work so much drama in the story using such limited literary devices even the novel form which is told via letters to and from characters in the book is somewhat stagnating, not to mention the aforementioned rules about the alphabet letters slow elimination.Dunn s opening pangram which is actually used to define pangram aptly describes the book a quirky novel with pages of zany, jumbled lexicon a treat to read. WARNING This is MY FAVORITE book of all time, so there will be gooing, gushing and shameless pluggery Welcome to Nollop, a quaint, autonomous island that lies quite near Charlotte, SC Though the islanders shun modern technology, they take pride in their educated citizenry Language is practically worshipped here, to the extent that the island is named after native son, Nevin Nollop, the author of the sentence typing students everywhere have come to know and dread For 100 years, a cenotaph honoring Nollop s remarkable vulpine canine sentence has stood in the center of town Then, one day, the Z tile falls to the ground and shatters.The town council, in their wisdom, decide that this is a sign from the Great Man himself, expressing a Nollopian desire that the letter Z be utterly excised fully extirpated absolutely heave ho ed from all oral and written communication.In a letter to her cousin, Tassie, island dweller Ella notes that it is just a funny little letter, after all It will hardly be missed.But Tassie disagrees I am so fearful, Ella, as to where this all may lead A silly little letter, to be sure, but I believe its theft represents something quite large and oh so frighteningly ominous For it stands to rob us of the freedom to communicate without any manner of fetter or harness. So, what happens to someone who accidentally utters a dreaded Z word As laid out by the Council, first offenders receive a public reprimand For a second offense, violators may choose flogging or head stocks A third offense is punished by banishment from the island Refusal to leave upon order of the Council will result in death.Death.Soon, libraries are shuttered and textbooks confiscated, lest no one read the offending letter But for the most part, the people survive There are a few problems some islanders have trouble adapting than others.And then another tile falls.And another.The personal letters exchanged between the residents are both hilarious and heartbreaking, as the writers attempt to cope with their dwindling alphabet You were right about the fallout from this most absurd law Not only does it cripple communication between islanders, it builds rock walls between heartsSlips of the tongue Slips of the pen All over town people hesitate, stammer, fumble for ways to express themselves, gripgrasping about for linguistic concoctions to serve the simplest of purposes.G go tonite at midnite No G So long G. There is such a delicious contrast of horror and humor here While I m laughing my head off at the part where they lose the D and have to invent new days of the week For Wednesday, please use WettyI m crying over Tassie s letter to Ella describing her mother s reaction to the banAnd yet, deep inside, she tells me, I am angry and rebellious In my head, she tells me, I am reciting what I recall of my niece s last letter, allowing the illegal words to baste and crisp I cook the words, serve them up, devour them greedily In the sanctuary of my thoughts, I am a fearless renegadeShe closes her letter with Never stop writing. This is the third time I ve read this book, and I m always moved by the plight of the islanders, how much they love language and literature, and their utter sorrow at having all that they love stolen If nothing else, the novel serves as a stunning reminder of how insidiously our rights can be stripped away from us And it starts with something as simple as one silly letter.Now, perhaps I should mention how much I enjoyed using ALL THE LETTERS on my keyboard as I typed this review I reveled in their shapes and truly, truly appreciated them I hope to never take them for granted again.You ll take my letters when you pry them from my cold dead hands Clever Silly waste of time and paper.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 enlightening, entertaining and less gimmicky ways I realise my opinion is very much a minority one, so perhaps I m overanalysing and taking it too seriously SPOLIERS BELOW The book is set in the present day on a fictitious island, where they venerate Nollop, who devised the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog as the shortest sentence using all the letters of the alphabet without resorting to proper nouns and abbreviations That irritated me from the start, as you can obviously reduce it by two letters just by changing it to A lazy dog.Anyway, this sentence is on Nollop s statue and when a letter falls off, the island council decree that it is a sign from Nollop that that letter cannot be used in speech or writing 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 The story is told via correspondence between islanders a contrivance to make it easier to tell and demonstrate the story and perhaps related to the fact this is the first novel of a playwright, although you sometimes have to glance ahead to see who a letter is from, as most of the characters write in a similar style As Dunn conveniently bans rare letters first Z, Q, then J , it s not till half way through that you really notice much difference in style, other than the odd awkward neologism, e.g birth anniversary Later on, they are allowed to use letters that sound roughly similar, but only in correspondence, e.g phewgitiph for fugitive.Presumably to add some much needed excitement to the story, an arbitrary deadline is set to devise an even shorter pangram and thus disprove the council s theory Pretty pointless when there is at least one perfectly grammatical and shorter pangram that is common knowledge, so it was just a case of waiting for it to crop up, as it duly did Their perseverance was impressive but ultimately irrelevant it was the serendipitous wish of an alcoholic falling off the wagon that saved them.A weak love story is included, but that doesn t really add much excitement either.It s a totalitarian regime with a quasi theocratic motive rather than a socio political economic one In fact we learn surprisingly little about the politics of Nollop The other big subject that is raised but not addressed is race In the introductory definitions, Dunn mentions black and white citizens it s 20 miles from S Carolina and says it used to be called Utopiana, but I don t think race is ever mentioned again I m not even sure which characters are which race, yet in a divided and disintegrating society, mightn t any racial tensions, however minor, be exacerbated And even if not, people s colour might affect their feelings about whether or not to flee to the mainland If he doesn t use it in the story, I don t know why he mentioned it at all.In the first twenty pages or so, Dunn shows off by littering the text with obscure words such as detachation, multype writudes, empyrean, extirpated, lucubrating, anserous and aposiopesis Thereafter, he seems to tire of that game and stick to mundane words, until the second half when the vocab finally becomes somewhat constrained and contorted due to the letters that have been prohibited Given that the whole book is an exercise in literary exhibitionism, I found the misuse of apostrophes e.g Masons Guild, Parents and Teachers Association and frequent omission of the definite article e.g going to town centre inexcusable.Writing with limitations, whether that be a min or max word count, limited vocabulary or limited letters, using rhyme or whatever can be a worthwhile intellectual exercise for a writer, but that doesn t mean the result is worth publishing, otherwise we might as well read spelling tests for pleasure.One could try to interpret profound truths from this book, but frankly I think it would be a waste of time Read Nineteen Eighty Four, The Trial, Fahrenheit 451, Oryx and Crake, Cat s Cradle, Riddley Walker, or The Handmaid s Tale instead etc.
Mark Dunn is the author of several books and than thirty full length plays, a dozen of which have been published in acting edition Mark has received over 200 productions of his work for the stage throughout the world, with translations of his plays into French, Italian, Dutch and Hungarian His play North Fork later retitled Cabin Fever A Texas Tragicomedy when it was picked up for publica
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- Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
- Mark Dunn
- 05 August 2017 Mark Dunn