Monday, July 29, 2013

Ella Minnow Pea: A novel in letters by Mark Dunn

Welcome to the island nation of Nollop, an independent island that lies off the coast of the United States of America near the South Carolina coast.  It is a small country, where the inhabitants proudly live in a culture rich with language and words with meaning, a legacy from Nevin Nollop who wrote the famous sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet with little repetition - "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".  These immortal words are etched on a memorial that has stood for over a hundred years, but when a letter falls from the monument it is seen not as a sign of aging adhesive, but rather the will of the mighty Nollop expressing his opinion from the great beyond - the letter has to go.

What begins with the loss of a single letter - z - soon turns into a dream-like (okay nightmare-like) existence where one by one the letters of the alphabet are removed from the written and spoken language, each letter removed from the language as it falls from the monument.  The people are a little confused at first, bemused even, but as the ones they love are punished (and even banished from the island completely) it becomes clear that things are never going to be the same on their little island.  As things go from bad to worse, it is up to one courageous young woman to save them all - but can she manage to complete Enterprise 32.  Ella Minnow Pea is not your average heroine, but she may be just what the island nation of Nollop needs.

In what may seem an odd twist this book was recommended to me by one of our library customers - and I am now passing on the favour by recommending it to you.  I am not usually a fan of novels in letter form, they can be quite contrived and hard to work through as the author tries to be clever and hide plot points in the letter with little care for how the letter would read - that is not the case here.  Almost from the first letter I was hooked on this story, and sat to finish the second half in one sitting so I could reach the end and find out what happens. 

This is one of those eye-opening books that makes you look at things in a different light, one of those thought provoking novels that will no doubt end up as one of those books students read at school to see how people can be manipulated to do things by the people in power - a modern classic to replace Animal farm or Lord of the flies.  This difference between Ella Minnow Pea and those other novels is that I actually enjoyed reading it, it became an addictive read to see how Ella would cope with the missing letters, the next little power trip from the council, and finally if anyone could break the 32 barrier and complete Enterprise 32.  An engrossing and thought provoking novel that will stay with you for some time.

If you like this book then try:
  • Ibid: a novel by Mark Dunn
  • Animal farm by George Orwell
  • Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Lord of the flies by William Golding
  • I am the cheese by Robert Cormier
  • Fahrenheit 451: A novel by Ray Bradbury

Reviewed by Brilla

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