Living without your ABC

Ella Minnow Pea Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This was our book group’s choice for April into May. Ella Minnow Pea was my suggestion – I read it ages ago, then it popped into my mind after a blog post discussed it a month or two ago (sorry I can’t remember whose blog to credit it).  After last month’s choice (reviewed here), we were after something a bit more quirky…

A quick resumé: Nollop is a small island nation off the USA, where the inhabitants revere their founder, the man who devised the famous pangram ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ which is emblazoned on his statue in the town square. One day, a letter falls off the statue, z, and this plunges the community into disarray. The Council decide that Nollop is sending them a message to do without that letter in their lives, and issues edicts to all inhabitants not to use it any more and destroy all things containing the letter. Offenders will be punished – two counts and you have a choice of stocks or a lashing; three counts and you’re out – banished. This hitherto tranquil island quickly descends into a totalitarian state, and even with just one letter lost, the cruel punishments are meted out and banishments start to happen. Then more letters begin to fall with increasing consequences …

The entire book is written in letters, mainly between relations Ella and Tassie who live in Nollop’s two communities, which are not linked by telephone. Nollopians are fond of linguistics and routinely use quite elaborate language anyway, but as the letters are removed, it becomes more and more complex, they have to become more and more inventive.

I had expected this book to have been a real marmite book – for our book group to either love or hate it. However, everyone enjoyed it, although admittedly to different levels.  All enjoyed the linguistic machinations, and Miles spent ages trying to make his own pangrams! I found it shocking how fast the society degraded, finding the punishments very severe – but as one of our group retorted, with tongue firmly in cheek, ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’!  At this time of political limbo in the UK, it made us all laugh.  Censorship was another issue – most of the books had to go instantly – absolutely terrible!

This was a good book group choice. Quirky and quick with plenty of talking points.  (8/10)  For another review read Nymeth’s here.

Source: Own Copy.

Mark Dunn, Ella Minnow Pea (Methuen, 2002) paperback.

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