Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Mister Pip, I suspect, is a book that is going to stay with me for a very long time and not just because of all of the wonderful references to Dickens. Set in Bougainville Island during the early 1990s (read, during the civil war,) the novel introduces us to two wonderful characters. Matilda, a girl who has grown up on the island with her mother (her father is away, working in Australia,) and her school teacher, Mr Watts, who is the only white person left on the island. Mr Watts is not a qualified teacher, but fills in his days by getting the parents of the children to share some of their personal knowledge and experiences. More importantly, he reads to the children selections from Dickens' Great Expectations. The book fires Matilda's imagination and she finds herself a little, well, enamoured with Pip. She writes his name in the sand, which is discovered by soldiers and thought to be a code, which in turn sets about a catastrophic turn of events ...

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It offers a surprising glimpse of life in a place not so far away from my own home country and is set during an era that I can remember. (Despite both of these things, I had never heard of Bougainville Island until I had well and truly become an adult.) It is interesting to see how Mr Watts ties his own story in with that of Pip from Great Expectations and is horrific to read what happens afterward. Matilda herself is a wonderful protagonist, a likeable young woman who wants to please both her mother and her teacher (despite their conflicting views,) and who sometimes makes mistakes. There are also some wonderful themes of how literature can be used to provide comfort and escape from the outside world.

Highly recommended.