Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones just over a week ago and I have been eagerly recommending it to anyone who will listen. As I work at a bookstore, "anyone"is really any customer that has asked me for assistance in the last few days. And I think I've even sold a few. I can easily recommend this book because it is intriguing, fast-paced, sympathetic, heart-breaking and, of course, well-written. Jones is an efficient writer, holding details back and allowing the reader to assume or guess at what comes next. It is a quick, excellent read - obviously, I highly recommend it.
The story begins as an island village in the South Pacific is being evacuated under threat of bloody civil war. The villagers are left with no teacher, among other things, and an eccentric white man - the only white left on the island - agrees to teach the children while the crisis continues. He teaches normal subjects but adds a daily treat for the kids - a reading from Great Expectations. Mathilda, the narrator, describes the first lesson: "I had never been read to in English before. Nor had the others. We didn't have books in our homes, and before the blockade our only books had come from Moresby, and those were written in pidgin. When Mr. Watts read to us we fell quiet. It was a new sound in the world. He read slowly so we heard the shape of each word." Each day he reads a new section of Great Expectations, and each day the kids are exposed to a different world, one in which they could dream freely without worrying about what the next day will bring.
The story progresses to an understandably tragic climax but, as one reviewer puts it, the "novel would be almost unbearable if it weren’t for its moments of affirmation of the miracles possible between good people and within the pages of a good book."
Jones raises many interesting questions with this story. I found myself recalling not only post-colonial narratives of Chinua Achebe and Cry, The Beloved Country (or even Graham Greene), but also Fahrenheit 451 in that books and stories can provide an escape from persecution. It is a complex and engaging novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. 5 Dickens novels out of 5.
5 hours ago