This is a “progressively lipogrammatic epistolary novel,” or, in other words, a book written in letters (that you’d send in the mail) that has to be careful of its words as certain letters (of the alphabet) are removed from the book one by one.
The premise is that there is an island called Nollop that is beholden to words and tradition: its citizens send letters and read newspapers without help of the internet. It is named after Nevin Nollop, the alleged inventor of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This sentence is placed prominently on a cenotaph (yeah, there’s some vocabulary in this novel!) in town, which becomes a problem when the letter “z” falls off. Ella Minnow Pea, her cousin Tassie, their families, and the rest of Nollop are at first amused when the island council decrees that the letter thus shall no longer be used (or allowed to be used, or read, or spoken of), but grow increasingly apprehensive when “q” falls off, then “j,” et cetera.
We find all of this out through letters between Ella, Tassie, et al, which become more limited as the letters fall. Scott’s favorite line near the end reads something like, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”
Ella Minnow Pea is a book for word nerds but also a commentary on totalitarian societies. Excellent combination!
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