Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Publisher: Anchor
Publication date: October 2001
ISBN: 9780385722438
Source: Library

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
On the island of Nollop, off the coast of North Carolina, lives a young girl named Ella Minnow Pea.  Her linguistically lovely nation prides themselves on their learning and especially on Nevin Nollop, creator of the beautiful pangram "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."   But, when the letters of this sentence begin to fall off of Nollop's revered statue, the council officials believe it is Nollop, communicating from beyond the grave, that those letters should be excised from Nollopian use.  Things become progressively more difficult for Ella to communicate without reprimand and she sets off on a task to save the future of speaking and writing on Nollop.

Things I Liked:
The book is so clever in its conception and its execution.  It made me want to use big words and to be more aware of what I speak and write.  As the letters progressively disappear, the writing becomes more ingenious.  Until it suddenly is ludicrous.  What an interesting view of a government that thinks such ridiculous things about Nollop and how they enforce things on the people.  You almost expect them to start taking things left and right with the power they believe they hold.  The end was pretty surprising as well.  Here is some of the literary goodness (hey, I had a hard time whittling these quotes down):

"However, in the end, our assessments and opinions counted for (and continue to count for) precious little, and we have kept our public speculation to a minimum for fear of government reprisal, so charged with distrust and suspicion have the esteemed island elders (and elderess) become following last year's unfortunate visit by that predatory armada of land speculators from the States, harboring designs for turning our lovely, island Shangri-la into a denatured resort destination for American cruise ships." p 4
"Each member in deliberate provocation of the High Island Council had marched single file into last Tuesday's open session wearing cartoon masks and making loud duck sounds - sounds which any sentient Nollopian knows by now are forbidden - while holding aloft large cardboard containers of a certain recently outlawed brand of American oatmeal." p 48
"There is no such thing as accident or misspeak, only grossly underapplied discoursal perspicacity, with unguarded exposure to distractional digression." p 55-56
"Ours continues to be a free, open society.  There will be no censures or prosecutions for exercising one's free speech rights in service to the laws of this nation, even if those rights entail criticism of the High Council." p 78
"Now, Rory isn't a very religious man - at least I never thought so.  But he became at that moment positively apoplectic - moving to assault the representative with everything available to him in his verbal arsenal, utterly without restraint - letting loose with a veritable, vituperative salvo - nothing printable here." p 122
"Disorder to match the clutter and chaos of our marvelous language.  Words upon words, piled high, toppling over, thoughts popping, correspondence and conversation overflowing." p 206
Things I Didn't Like:
It's definitely not plot-driven.  Not much appears to actually happen to people, except the loss of letters.  But, that's not the purpose of the book and the writing and wit are what make the entire thing so much fun and also so interesting to read.  (It actually made me feel rather stupid writing this review after I read such awesome creative writing.)  I'd love to read this for a book group and get others' opinions on it.

Um, I guess it was a little like other dystopian books, though none of them quite had the linguistic factor 

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: none

Overall rating: *****

If you've read this book, I'd love to know what you thought!

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. I LOVE this book!

    It's not plot-driven, like you said, but it's just so darn clever! :D

  2. Dang, I need to read this one too!

  3. I loved this one as well, so creative. I was so impressed with the whole thing, even though it made me feel terribly stupid. =)

  4. Britt, it was so much fun to read!

    Suey, it would be a really good book club one for someday too.

    Kath, I totally felt stupid too - I was afraid to write a review of it, since I couldn't think of enough smart-sounding words!

  5. I read this book last summer, and it was over my head! :)
    Intellecutally, I understand how wonderful it is, but my feeble brain just couldn't process it. Like you said, "I felt stupid" the whole time I was reading it.

  6. Perhaps just a little in the tradition of Mark Twain and "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"--but I won't know for sure until I've read it for myself!

  7. Gerbera Daisy, I think if you relax a bit more and not worry so much about understanding, it is totally enjoyable! But, yeah, still feel stupid.

    Andie, this is where I admit to being sorely under-read in the Twain arena. But, I definitely recommend this one!


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