Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

A friend of mine had told me that it was her turn to have a book club at her house and she invited me to come and read Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I remembered Amanda's review and thought I really should read this.
It turns out that I'm glad I did. Ella Minnow Pea is such an imaginative epistolary as it is a novel written in letters. Not only that it is written in letters but the plot is concerned with graphemes or the alphabet. You can feel how the people of Nollop cherish letter writing and the alphabet as they write each other. Soon, I was engrossed in neologisms and word play.
It took me back to the many Scrabble games I played with my Grandma when visiting her. My grandma really instilled a love of words in me through encouraging and letting me play Scrabble with her.
From the beginning, I struggled a bit to understand the satire behind the messages because that has never been a strong point with me. It's hard enough for me to be satirical and when I do it's not noticeable enough to be funny. So, then I realized I was taking it too seriously. Once I lightened up, it started to engage me with its wit and how sincerely clever the author had become because the people are writing their letters to each other with fewer and fewer choices left from their precious alphabet. It became like a puzzle as my brain automatically tried to figure out what was trying to be replaced in the alphabet in each of the new creations of words that had to be made in order to keep communicating. It wasn't easy for the people of Nollop to give up their alphabet letters. So, tough decisions had to be made personally by each person in order to feel like they could live again. This nonsensical form of communication had to be given up.
And then I reached page 86-87 in a letter written to sweet Mittie from Agnes:

We will not speak, we too, but I eagerly expect to pore with you in warm silence over our musty high school annuals as well as these fox-worn nature scrapbooks we spent several beautiful summers lovingly compliling.

What an epiphany! I found one of my favorite words right there on the page and by this time I understood that it wouldn't be allowed for long. So sad. I was hooked and I kept reading.

  • 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (September 17, 2002)
  • My rating: 4 stars


Amanda said...

Liz mentioned to me the other day that you talked about the satire in this book, and you know, that just blew me away. It's interesting what each person sees in a book. I didn't catch satire at all, but I'll be looking next time around.

Rebecca Reid said...

I love that cover so much more than the one I read!

I'm glad you liked it. It's a fun book -- especially, as you realized, one doesn't take it too seriously.

Julie said...

Amanda - It's hard to know if Mark Dunn meant for it to be satirical at all. There are quotes in the book that just made me smile.
I did like how this reviewer put it:

As freedom of expression becomes increasingly problematic, one begins to search for Dunn's satirical target. And it is hard to identify, for this is pure allegory. 'Animal Farm', written for a simpler ideological world, was easy. But are we talking about religious fundamentalism here (a latter-day 'Tale of a Tub') ? The collapse of literacy ? Or are we allegorising allegory? Who knows? Perhaps Dunn is lambasting evil men who would suppress lipograms. - Giles Coren, The Times

Rebecca - I also loved this cover! Although, it wasn't the one I read I had to use it with my review. I really did enjoy this book!

Amanda said...

That's interesting Julie, I really just didn't see it as satire. I guess I figured it was talking abotu censorship in general. At the same time, though, I can see people taking it differently. Some people feel like ti's a warning against big government, others against organized religion, others against book banning, etc. I guess you can take it a lot of different ways. To me, that seems to be the mark of a classic.

hamilcar barca said...

it's unaminous! 5-Squared gives Ella Minnow Pea three thumbs up!

Amanda said...


Julie said...

It definitely has the mark of classic like you said, Amanda!