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  • Writer's pictureJames Spiro

Ella Minnow Pea: A Book Review

Hi all,

I have never blogged about a book before, but I would like to bring my latest read to your attention – Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.

I don’t often read fiction novels. I like to divide my reading attention into non-fiction essays and biographies, with my fiction mostly dedicated to television shows. However, upon discovering this gem I wanted to adjust my priorities.

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary lipogram which follows our protagonist, Ella, living on the fictional island of Nollop. Her home is named after Nevin Nollop – the man given credit for creating the famous sentence, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’. There is a statue on the island is in his honour, which is taken incredibly seriously by the local council. However, its tiles containing the sentence begin to fall, which the council interprets as a sign from Nollop himself – demanding the islanders omit the letters from their lives!

What follows is an increasingly ludicrous attempt to outlaw the use of certain letters used to write the letters which are exchanged. The stakes rise as the letters fall, and so Ella takes it upon herself to save the island from literary extinction.

Sound confusing? It is. Ella Minnow Pea is a unique challenge that Dunn takes on with great success. Immediately, we plummet into a life where the freedom of speech and expression is compromised. The novel tackles the theme of Totalitarianism from an authoritarian local council which is determined to remove all history and sense of expression.

I have never quite read anything like it. As someone who adores the English language and wordplay, I found my heart racing each time another letter dropped from the doomed statue, forever affecting the fate of the island’s inhabitants.

Since its publication in 2001, the ‘progressively lipogrammatic’ novel has been selected as Boarders’ Book of the Year and is currently being adapted into a film. I would certainly recommend anyone with a love of language to check it out.

For now, I am diving back into non-fiction with Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. A review on that will surely be quite something! I’ll leave it to the professionals for now.


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