Goodreads synopsis: Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram (a phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet), “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.
This was an interesting short story. (Short to me as it clocks in at just over 200 pages). It’s a look into extremism, in an odd form. Basically, on the statue of Nevin Nollop is his famous sentence and, because it has been standing for so long, the bonding agent has lost its sticking ability and letters start falling off. The Council claims it is Nollop speaking through the letters and they begin to ban the use of each letter as it falls (if there are multiple letters it is not entirely banned until all fall off). However, effective at certain dates, people must stop using the letters in the written and spoken word. The town completely falls apart, people are banished to the US, some are flogged in public, others are sent to the stockade (all depending upon how many times they have committed the offense). It is a testament to how absolutely crazy and out of control any situation taken to the extreme can be.
People literally die and go crazy because they are no longer allowed to use certain letters of the alphabet. Though that sounds ridiculous, reading each letter and witnessing the increasing craziness, one can almost understand. As family and friends are banished and people are left alone with limited ways to communicate with those who remain, they have trouble coping. It’s sad.
Honestly, the thing I found most amazing was that as each letter was banned, Dunn was able to write so many of the epistles without ever using the letters. For example, “Z” is the first letter to fall; almost the entire book was written without the use of the letter Z. It takes a lot of thought and control to be able to consciously write without using particular letters. In the beginning, people would find other words to use in place of ones they were no longer allowed to use. But as more letters fell, it got harder to write correctly (i.e. grammatically correct) and they even had to begin spelling some things out phonetically or using numerals in place of some words (i.e. 2 for “to” and 4 for “for”). Language fell apart as more letters fell. Oh also, they were only able to write things out phonetically (that is, “ph” for “f” was allowed in writing, but not in speaking).
Wow, I had more to say about this than I thought!
Have you read this? What did you think? Thoughts on extremism (no matter the subject)?