Living without your ABC

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This was our book group’s choice for April into May. This one was my suggestion – I read it ages ago, then it popped into my mind after a blog post discussed it a month or two ago (sorry I can’t remember whose blog to credit it).  After last month’s choice (reviewed here), we were after something a bit more quirky…

A quick resumé: Nollop is a small island nation off the USA, where the inhabitants revere their founder, the man who devised the famous pangram ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ which is emblazoned on his statue in the town square. One day, a letter falls off the statue, z, and this plunges the community into disarray. The Council decide that Nollop is sending them a message to do without that letter in their lives, and issues edicts to all inhabitants not to use it any more and destroy all things containing the letter. Offenders will be punished – two counts and you have a choice of stocks or a lashing; three counts and you’re out – banished. This hitherto tranquil island quickly descends into a totalitarian state, and even with just one letter lost, the cruel punishments are meted out and banishments start to happen. Then more letters begin to fall with increasing consequences …

The entire book is written in letters, mainly between relations Ella and Tassie who live in Nollop’s two communities, which are not linked by telephone. Nollopians are fond of linguistics and routinely use quite elaborate language anyway, but as the letters are removed, it becomes more and more complex, they have to become more and more inventive.

I had expected this book to have been a real marmite book – for our book group to either love or hate it. However, everyone enjoyed it, although admittedly to different levels.  All enjoyed the linguistic machinations, and Miles spent ages trying to make his own pangrams! I found it shocking how fast the society degraded, finding the punishments very severe – but as one of our group retorted, with tongue firmly in cheek, ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’!  At this time of political limbo in the UK, it made us all laugh.  Censorship was another issue – most of the books had to go instantly – absolutely terrible! 

This was a good book group choice. Quirky and quick with plenty of talking points.  (7/10, I bought this book.)  For another review read Nymeth’s here.


4 thoughts on “Living without your ABC

  1. I have seen a lot of marmite reactions to this on the internet so I think your book group was lucky(or unlucky if you enjoy debate!). I haven’t read this, but I do have a copy (LOL! just as we were saying at the weekend!) I have a feeling that I’ll hate it as I’m not a fan of books written in letter form, but I look forward to finding out which side of the fence I fall!

  2. Jacky – you’d soon know if you liked it or not as it’s a short book. At our book group we did spend ages getting stuck into talking about pangrams – as if you substitute ‘a’ for the first ‘the’ you get 34 letters, and could you do without the first ‘the’ – is Quick brown fox … proper English? That was fun, and made up for us all being politicked out!

  3. I’m glad everyone in your book club enjoyed it! Ella Minnow Pea was perfect for me because I looove epistolary novels, and wordplay, but if you disliked either of those things, I can imagine it might feel gimmicky and overdone. Apparently the same author did a book called Ibid: A Novel, which is all in endnotes. I’d love to see how he manages that.

    • I’d read the book before, so I knew what I was letting us in for! I saw Ibid on Amazon, might have to add that one to the wishlist Jenny.

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