Wednesday 26 January 2011
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Published by Methuen Fiction in 2003
Dear Cousin Ella,
New era! Posh-and-pooh! This latest development hasn't inaugurated a new era. It's only shoved us far deeper into the dungeon of Island Medievalism. We shall be wearing burlap and flour sack tomorrow, and lucubrating by candlelight because even light bulbs seem doomed now to join the official list of technological non-essentials. And now this regulation! I am bezide myself!
Firstly before you jump on my back for words spelt incorrectly. Stop! They are supposed to be spelt that way. That is the cleverness of this book. Mark Dunn is a literary genius.
Ella Minnow Pea has the most original use of the English language in a book I have ever seen. This is an epistolary novel with a difference (and you know how much I love epistolary novels). Ella Minnow Pea exchanges letters with family, friends and neighbours on the little quiet island of Nollop. The dystopian island is named after Nevin Nollop,the revered author of the sentence 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog' and has a statue commemorated to his memory with the sentence placed above with each letter seperately tiled. When the letters begin to fall from the statue, the rulers of the island take that as a sign that that Nollop no longer wants these letters to be used and they become banned in any form of use. That is not too much of a loss for the islanders to begin with, however things deteriorate quickly when they are left with only a couple of letters from the alphabet.
This book is amazing and is so well written , I wanted to kick myself that I hadn't come up with the idea first. Not that my literary offerings would ever come close to Mark Dunn's exceptional skills. The way Dunn uses the English language to spell words differently is unique. As the letters slowly disappear through the book, you watch as the islanders struggle to cope with the increasing demands made on them to try and communicate without certain letters in the alphabet. As the book progresses, you have to work really hard as a reader, to work out what the letters say. You feel their desperation as they struggle to be understood.
By writing the book in letter format, you get to see how the islanders actually cope under the restraint of the disappearing alphabet. I don't think this book would have worked as well if it had been written any other way.
Nymeth at Things Mean Alot mentioned that it reminded her of 1984 and I could immediately see what she meant. The villager's lives are totally controlled by the rulers of the island and they are harsh leaders to the extreme. The islanders were treated abominably when they chose to disobey the rules or unwittingly forgot that a letter had been banned. Everyone is spying on everyone else, leading to an increased lack of trust amongst a small previously close knit community. As the islanders realise what they are doing to each other, they begin to see that their only way to freedom is to work together to come up with a solution.
This books shows how one minor issue can escalate and escalate until it causes the downfall of all. A very entertaining read, that appears light hearted and funny on the outside, but covers layers of darker topics such as totalitarianism and censorship underneath. If you love to see the English language stretched by the imagination, then this is the book for you.