What a fun, fantastic read! Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn is a brilliant, witty, original story that is sure to be a classic as the ages roll.
The story begins on the island of Nollop, named after the revered Nevin Nollop who phrased the line “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Inhabiting this uniquely verbal isle are a city of peoples who cherish the rich, full and expressive proper English language. However, one day tiles fall off Nevin Nollop’s statue knocking off the letter “Z” of the holy phrase. Instead of attributing the tile’s demise to the deterioration of the adhesive, town leaders determine that Nollop is making his wishes known from the grave: the letter must cease to exist in all forms. This sets in train events in which that letter is forbidden in speech and writing on pain of punishment and eventual banishment.
As the days pass, more and more letters continue to fall at increasing intervals. To utter the forbidden letters in speech or writing, whether purposefully or by accident, leads to punishment for the first two incidents and finally banishment on the third. As citizens are leaving by the boatloads, due to banishment or frustrations over the stupidity of the Council, Ella stays to fight the good fight and to find a way to end the law of the Council by completing an impossible task: to find a better sentence, using all 26 letters of the alphabet, with only 32 letters altogether.
The story is epistolary in nature, as it is composed of letters between several of the character, many between Ella and her cousin Tassie. But I love the wordplay in the title: Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters. Not only is it a complete novel composed of mostly of multiple letters, it is also a novel devoted to the letters of the alphabet. There are many such wordplays in this slim, 200-page novel.
It’s fun to see how Dunn manages to continue telling his story while avoiding use of a growing number of letters in the alphabet. Imagine trying to communicate an entire letter without the use of the letters Z, W, D, B, U and so on. He becomes increasingly clever, witty and unpredictable as the heroine tries to save the island and the essence that makes it such a special place to live.
Surprisingly uncomplicated, yet utterly delightful, I highly recommend this charmingly zany book. It will have you laughing, smiling and thinking about words you may not have used or heard for a while and a story that you probably won’t soon forget. I think it will be a classic, mark my words.