This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn

My friend Meg loaned me this quaint little novel.

I had a hard time reading this at first. I was in a "reading block" and I read and re-read the first page without absorbing anything. I decided to switch to Less Than Zero, in hopes of jump-starting my reading frenzy.

It worked.

I then picked up this one again, skeptical that it would be as interesting as I hope and I was so wrong.

This is such a cute, odd, unique, funky little book. I couldn't help laughing at each "chapter". You'll understand as I describe it more...

There is an island off the coast of South Carolina: Nollopton. The island was named after their great source of fame: Nevin Nollop, the author of the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Then strangeness hits the little isle when one of the tiles on a cenotaph, a tile representing the pangram of Nevin Nollop, falls to the ground and shatters. In what becomes a dark, twisted, humorous-but-not interpretation by the town's High Island Council (and priests) that this is a sign from Nevin Nollop himself -- the town bans the use of the letter. First offense: a public oral reprimand; second offense: a public lashing or headstock; third offense: banishment from the island and any refusal to leave? Execution.

What entails is chaos. The first letter lost was the letter "z". A teacher hit the first offense by inadvertently:
She was teaching arithmetic and made mention of a sum of eggs. Twelve eggs to be exact.
So you can see how quirky this little book is: reading the unusual words (I had my trusty iTouch nearby so I could look up words, only to find that a great many of them were "made up"), the descriptions of how offenses were made, and then towards the end, deciphering the words themselves.

The novel is written in a similar style as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which is a series of letters exchanged to a few, which outlines what is happening on the isle of Nollopton.

To be exact, the letters that fall are not to be written or spoken in any way, shape of form. And what happens is, more and more letters fall to the ground and become banned from usage.

Most islanders end up being banished from their infractions and many leave the island due to the stringent law and fanatical interpretation of the fallen tiles. It is eerily similar to real life religious fanaticism, where the 'gospel' is subjective and locked as the truth.

But Ella Minnow Pea (one 18 year old letter writer Nollopton) believes that creating a new pangram, thereby showing the Council that it doesn't take a 'spiritual' figure to create such a sentence, will absolve the insane laws and bring her island back to normal.

When the letters "q", "j", "z", "d" are gone, the Council then deems the following as substitutes for the days of the week:
Sunday = Sunshine
Monday = Monty
Tuesday = Toes
Wednesday = Wetty
Thursday = Thurby
Friday = Fribs
Saturday = Satto-gatto
And by the book's end, the sentences read like:
Pharewell. Pharewll. Tho we were not phrents 4 long, I will so miss ewe.
Definitely a fun book with a bit of a dark side, a reminder at how fun words can be and how stupid people are when they get too fanatical about symbolism.

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