“I am so fearful, Ella, as to where this all may lead. A silly little letter, to be sure, but I believe its theft represents something quite large and oh so frighteningly ominous.”
There is small island called Nollop off the east coast of the United States named after Nevin Nollop, the author of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. In Nollop’s honor they have erected a statue of Nollop’s likeness with his famed sentence hung underneath. One morning, the islanders wake up to find one of the letters has fallen off the statue.
The fanatical High Council determines that this must be the posthumous work of Nevin Nollop himself and they forbid the use of that letter moving forward, putting in place three tiers of punishment, should the letter be used either verbally or in writing. The first offence warrants a notice, the second offence is the violator’s choice of public flogging or stocks and the third offense is banishment from the island.
The books follows the written communication of a handful of citizens as letters continue to fall from the statue and the ordinances from the High Council become more heinous and outlandish making life on the island hostile and unbearable. By the climax of the story, the High Council have come to revere Nollop as the one true god and begin taking over people’s homes and property to satisfy their being’s whims.
As the majority of the islanders leave Nollop under their own power or due to banishment, the remaining citizens begin to organize against the council, finally brokering a deal that if the citizens can created another pangram with 32 letters or less, they would prove that the falling letters were a result of age and not the will of the former Nevin Nollop.
“We are, when it comes down to it, all of us : mere monkeys at typewriters.”
This book was recommended to me by a friend by way of a Tumblr post regarding the unique way this story is written. I have a bit of a “divine book theory”. I believe books find me when I need them. That has proven remarkably true with Ella Minnow Pea, given the current morale and state of affairs in the United States. The main characters are watching something unfold that is marring the very integrity of their home. Neighbors are turning into enemies, the current leaders have become tyrannical, and life as they knew it has been upended. I felt my own anxiety and desperation mirrored in Ella’s letters as she tries to wrap her head around the Council’s latest decision, her continual disbelief that this is actually happening and her wont to stay in the place she has so proudly called home despite it being nothing to be proud of anymore. It was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. I found myself holding my breath as I fervently turned the pages, hoping against hope that the Nollpians prevailed.
I would recommend this books with the caveat that it is what I like to call a “cumbersome read”. Due to the high value of literacy in Nollopian culture, the vocabulary of the letter writers is robust and verbose and had me checking context clues and reaching for the dictionary more than once. Then further in the story, as they lost the rights to certain letters, sentences became phonetic or truncated. I did not find this to be a turn off, but I do believe it is a nice warning for any potential readers. The story is worth the effort, I assure you. Furthermore, should you decided to pick up this book, pay attention to the dates in the upper right corner. The creativity employed here as the letters fall away is entertaining.