No Happy Nonsense

Ella Minnow Pea / Mark Dunn


March 23rd, 2023 | Quick Thoughts

The narrative takes place on the island of Nollop, named after Kevin Nollop, the creator of the infamous pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The citizens eschew modern technology and prefers to write letters to one another as the main form of communication. The book is epistolary, and as the novel progresses, letters from a Nollop statue on the island begin to have letters from the infamous sentence fall off, resulting in the nation no longer using those letters. As such, the book itself does not use these letters any longer.

I really liked this book. Borderline loved it. "Ella Minnow Pea" is the name of the main character, and obviously is a homonym of L-M-N-O-P, which are infamously sort of smushed together when the alphabet is recited in American English.

Despite the book being over 20 years old it doesn't feel dated, thanks to the disconnected nature of the citizens of Nollop, and the seemingly evergreen theme of "be careful of totalitarianism" never going out of style.

The wordplay elements throughout the book are a lot fun. When "z" is removed from the lexicon of all the citizens, I felt myself scanning every word for the terminus letter of the alphabet. At one point, you read a letter (epistle) and then the next one is a letter (epistle) from the high council, alerting the sender of the previous letter (epistle) that they used a forbidden letter (consonant).

The citizens strike a deal with one of the high council members; the councilman will reconsider the entire "thing" if they can come up with a pangram of 32 letters or less. Many people try to do this, using young ones who are exempt from the omission-of-certain-letters-rule, although the adults have to pantomime the sentence to the children, lol.

The book gets whacky when more and more letters are removed from existence. It's fun though, watching how at first only certain words are changed, or a new word is near-universally used to replace another. As more and more letters are taken out of circulation, though, anything goes. Language becames way more fluid and as long as the general gist of an idea is expressed with the available letters, boom, that's the current written language.

The climax of the book...well it really fits itself in well. I wasn't cheering as I read because like who would just be sitting on their couch reading a book and actively cheering at what happens, right?

It's a good little book. When I finished it I looked out the window and saw a bird land on a telephone wire, he winked at me. Interpret that as you like.


Filed Under: Reviews