The first book I read by Mark Dunn was called Ella Minnow Pea. It was the strangest book I think I have ever read being a tale of an island which starts to ban the use of letters of the alphabet so that the inhabitants have to change how they speak and write. It is enormously clever. When I saw in a charity shop that I could obtain another of his books I was delighted and Ibid also fits this month’s theme of Words, Books and Writing.
In Ibid the author tells the life story of a three legged man Jonathan Blashette born into a small American town in the twentieth century. The premise of the book is that the main narrative of the biography is accidently destroyed and that the book now only contains the footnotes which accompanied the original text. If you have read as many biographies as I have you will know that there is often a lot of material in footnotes but it tends to be rather random and amplifies the text rather than telling the story. It must have been quite a challenge to tell a story this way but I think that the author mostly succeeds.
The reason why Jonathan Blashette’s life story is worthy of being written is that he is a famous entrepreneur who has developed and made a fortune from selling an underarm deodorant for men. He was also born with three legs, ran away to the circus and has several deep loves in his life all of whom had life changing experiences in Boston.
This book is amazingly funny in parts because the author can digress substantially from the main story, and the side stories and life histories of minor characters are quirky and fun. The author can include the text of letters and even the odd recipe to enliven the text. My problem with the book was that Jonathan mixed a lot with famous people and cultural icons of the early twentieth century and because I am not American I didn’t know these people and therefore didn’t always get the joke.
This book worked well enough and it was certainly an unusual read. I didn’t think it was as good as Ella Minnow Pea though. Both books that this author has written and I have read illustrate different ways of writing books and playing with traditional formats and I enjoyed them for that reason.