Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel Without Letters by Mark Dunn (4.5/5)

The back says: As Ella Minnow Pea writes to her cousin with the latest news on the small, quiet island of Nollop, little does she imagine the crisis ahead. The letter z has fallen from the statue of Nevin Nollop, revered author of the sentence ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ – and the island’s rulers interpret this as a sign of divine displeasure and ban its use in any form. In a novel composed of correspondence, the loss of z is inconvenient; but far worse is to come as more letters fall and more are banned, until only l, m, n, o, p remain…

I say: This was such a delightful little read, especially since I love words. The main reason I bought this was because I wanted to see how far Dunn would pull off the correspondence with only the letters l, m, n, o, and p and he did it with flare.

Can I say flare and still be serious?

More than the play with language I loved the, not so subtle (not that it was supposed to be), political allegory in the banning of the letters. Although I’m a big lover of subtlety, laying it on quite thick, as in Animal Farm by George Orwell, somehow forces you to take a look at the issues at hand; in this case totalitarianism, censorship and civil rights. In the end I suppose you take away from the novel as much as you want, but the author has still managed to make you take something with you, without banging you over the head with it.

It’s a thin line, I guess, but Dunn manages it perfectly.

I really feel like it’s quite pointless to expect anything but perfection from anyone who presents their book as “a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable”, and then starts off by explaining what those “big words” mean.

Aside: I think I may have fallen in love with it right then and there.  

I really like the way Dunn set up the correspondence between the characters; it didn’t feel contrived at all, but flowed along nicely. I was getting a bit nervous towards the end when nearly all of the letters had fallen off and kept wondering how Dunn would proceed, but he surprised me with a quite ingenious solution.

4.5/5 because the end felt a bit rushed and I wish Dunn had spent a little bit more time on the events leading up to it. It was a little too ‘in the nick of time’ for my liking.

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