Saturday, 17 October 2015

Ella Minnow Pea book review

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn was a really interesting book about language. A small island Nollop - outside the US - have built their society around the guy who came up with the pangram "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". When the letters on his statue fall down the council decides this is the will of Nollop and removes the characters from all discourse.

The epistle-based society fall into despair, but do not dare fight the council, and we follow through letters, notes and other written communication the fall of the Nollopian society.

It's a very smart book, with a huge glossary and some interesting grammatical choices as the letters fall, though you have to have a huge vocabulary to follow it - as they start using more and more synonyms I spent an increasing amount of time looking up words in the dictionary, until they lose so many graphemes that they resort to "sound-likes" which makes it difficult to read in a totally different way.

While I really liked the word-play and the intelligence in the language-based writing, I wasn't as fond of the story-telling. I felt the book kept telling me plot threads right before them coming into effect - why doesn't the increasingly tyrannical council read the islanders written communication? Because Nollop said before he died "never to read your neighbour's letters". Literally the next page is the council putting into effect a written-communication checker. He's just French so he won't be able to actually read the letters, keeping true to Nollop's wishes. - and stuff like this happens several times. I also found the tone took a heavy turn towards the end, suddenly becoming very dark, and there's a huge plot element with one of the council members I felt was never acknowledged or resolved.

So, I really liked it as a intelligent language experiment, but not as much as a stand-alone story. I'd recommend reading it if you're interested in language, grammar and creative takes on writing.

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