Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is a gem of a book. I stumbled upon it while browsing online bookshops last week, and thought it sounded so interesting that I downloaded it onto Charlotte, my Kindle, straight away. I read it in one sitting – it is only small – but to be honest, I don’t know if I did it enough justice as it’s a very clever little book that really deserves some reflection and thought.

The book is set on the fictitious island nation of Nollop, named after Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’   The town reveres Nollop and a statue is erected in the town square in his honour and tiles that display the pangram are displayed on a wall behind him. One day, the letter ‘Z’ falls off and chaos ensues. The Town Council rule that all letter Z’s must be deleted from the alphabet immediately, which means that all the town library books need to be censored and anyone with the letter Z in their name must from now on be known as their middle or last name only!  Failure not to follow these rules lead to a warning, then being put in the stock and then if a third offense is noted, the perpetrator will be exiled from Nollop!  I love this crazy world and despite how unrealistic it is, it’s almost a spoof of what is actually happening in some corners of the world in real-life.

The Stocks @ my local 'story themed' playground

As time moves on, more and more letters drop off the wall. The story is told through a series of letters between the main character, Ella Minnow Pea and her family and neighbours. As greater numbers of letters are removed from the alphabet, the reader has his or her work cut out deciphering the made-up words and the phonetically spelt ones, which get harder and harder as less phonetical alternatives come possible!

Quote: “Slips of the tongue. Slips of the pen. All over town, people hesitate, stammer, fumble for ways to express themeslves, gripgrasping about for linguistic concotions to serve the simplest of purposes.” And another, more simply put, quote, “I go to the baker’s.  I point.  We all point.”  Love it!

When ‘Y’ drops off, the Council notifies its’ people of the new days of the week, which include Satto-gatto (Saturday,) Monty, Toes and Wetty!  It gets hilarious towards the end when the characters start making their own names for days and months either because they haven’t got the letters left that they need or simply because they’ve forgotten what the replacement names are!  For October, we had Octarchy, Octopus and Oompahpah, to name but three.

This book is classed as ‘a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable’ by the author.  Don’t let the big words put you off.  It does challenge the reader in parts but that’s all part of its’ charm, quirkiness and beauty.  Read it and love Nollop!


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