Emily Dickinson's famous lines "there is no frigate like a book to take us miles away" could not be more apropros of Lloyd Jones' magical MISTER PIP. Matilda, the narrator, is a black child entering puberty living in New Guinea when we first meet her. Her beloved father has left her and her mother to seek his fortune in Australia and try to, in the words of her mum, "turn into a white man." Matilda becomes fascinated, as does the reader, with the only white man on her island, Mr. Watts (some days he wore a red clown's nose), nicknamed by the children of the village "Pop Eye." His wife is a black woman named Grace whom he often pulls around on a trolley. When war breaks out and many people flee the settlement, Mr. Watts teaches the remaining island children. He reads aloud to his spellbound students Charles Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS, which he describes as the greatest novel by the greatest English writer of the nineteenth century. Dickens' character Pip makes an indelible impression on the young Matilda and becomes much more real to her than dead relatives. Much of the conflict in this beautifully crafted story has to do with the tension between Mr. Watts, who does not believe in a god, and Matilda's mother Dolores, a devout believer in the Good Book. Matilda sees many parallels between her life and that of the fictional Pip. As an adult she remembers his confession,"it is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home" and thinks of her island. That passage and many others she sees as "personal touchstones."
Mr. Jones' narrative will hold you in its spell, and you will long remember Mr. Watts. Like many teachers, he is part charlatan, part magician, but also a kind and loving mentor. He is more alive than many of the people on the nightly news-- and certainly more decent-- and as real as William Styron's Sophie, John Updike's Rabbit or Thomas Hardy's Tess.
MISTER PIP says wondrous things about the power of the imagination, the permanence of storytelling-- when the novel is lost, Mr. Watts and his students remember fragments from it and write them down-- kindness and courage. The author is a wizard with words, but he also lets his characters make profound statements about life as well. For example, the Jones' ocean shuffles up the beach and draws out; Matilda hears "the lazy flip-flop of the sea--so much louder at night than during the day" and Mr. Watts defines the word "opportunity" to his students: "'The window opens and the bird flies out.'" Matilda, from reading this one book of Dickens, finds out that "you can slip under the skin of another just as easily as your own, even when that skin is white and belongs to a boy alive in Dickens' England. Now, is that isn't an act of magic I don't know what is." Another character muses on youth and age: "' Everyone was young in those days. That's the main complaint you hear from people who are getting old. You stop seeing young people. You begin to wonder if there are any left and whether there were only young people when you were young.'"
When you finish this haunting and intense story, you very well may want to reread the Dickens' account of the young Pip and his journey to becoming a gentleman. I know I do.
"Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones is the wondrous coming-of-age story about Matilda Laimo, a 13-year old Papua New Guinean child living on the island of Bougainville. It is an enchanting, lyrical, lush, and politically powerful tale by a prize-winning author of world-standing literary ability. The book has already won the 2007 Commonwealth Prize for literature and is currently among thirteen titles longlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize. It has been sold for distribution in the United States for an unprecedented sum; even if the author fails to win the Booker Prize, it will still make him a millionaire. If the book wins the Booker Prize, it is destined to be a big-time modern literary and popular crossover bestseller.
The story is set in 1991. The mainland Papua New Guinean government is involved in a civil war with the inhabitants of Bougainville, a large island off its southeastern edge--an island abundant in gold and copper resources. The population and culture of Bougainville is more similar to the Solomon Islands archipelago. where it belongs geographically rather than to any of the diverse mainland tribes of Papua New Guinea. As the novel begins, the child is barely aware of the conflict. She is black, and she views the invading government forces as foreign redskins.
Matilda lives in a tranquil primitive coastal village of no more than 60 people. They live in dirt-floored huts, and easily get all the food they need from the surrounding bountiful jungle and ocean. But in 1991, everything changes when the government chooses to blockade the island. Subsequently, all white people, including the village's teacher, missionary, doctor, etc., take the last boat off the island. All leave except Mr. Watts, an eccentric white man living a reclusive life with his black island wife in an old missionary house near the village--a house completely hidden by tall grass left uncut for decades. As the blockade progresses, all supplies slowly go scarce, then disappear altogether. There are no more canned foods, no more gasoline for the electrical generators, no more medicines. Babies start dying once again from malaria. The island children, freed from school, are aimless. The island quickly and easily returns to the way that life has been lived there for thousands of years.
The author, Lloyd Jones, knows this subject first-hand--he served as a journalist in Bougainville "where the most unspeakable things happened without once raising the ire of the outside world." And that is indeed true. I consider myself well informed on world matters, yet before I read this novel and did some background research about the setting, I had no idea about the great inhumanity that this island endured during its 10-year-long civil war. The war ultimately cost the lives of more than 11% of the island's inhabitants...and the world, for the most part, completely ignored the events.
Violence does occur in this novel, and it is "unspeakable," but the author treats this subject carefully--we are spared undue shock, and it is not the focus. This book can, and will, appeal to all readers, including young adults.
The main story begins when Mr. Watts decides to reopen the schoolroom and become the village's temporary teacher. He teaches the children by reading aloud Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations." The children quickly become totally entranced. They fall in love with the books main character, Mister Pip. Lovingly, Matilda builds an oceanfront shrine to Mister Pip--a fictional character that has become more alive to her than anything else in her impoverished environment. But this simple act of love brings violence into her life and the life of her community. The government "redskins" see the shrine from their helicopters and are sure that Mister Pip is a hidden rebel leader.
For me the most wondrous aspect of this novel is the prose--completely fresh and original. There is a rhythmic quality to the writing that is wholly new, and hard to analyze. The prose has a lovely and lyrical overall simplicity. The writing compelled me inside the story; I became part of that alien, primitive world.
There is an important moral message within this novel. According to Mr. Watts: "to be human is to be moral, and you can't have a day off when it suits." Personally, it makes me think about the fact that we are all living on a large island--planet Earth. Like Bougainville, Earth is rife with conflicts and, for me, the most important are environmental degradation and global warming. Are we going to do the moral thing, even if it doesn't suit?
So far I have read two other novels shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize: "On Chesil Beach: A Novel" by Iwan McEwan, and "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid. Each I have reviewed on Amazon, and recommend highly. They all are exceptional examples of modern literarature, and all have important messages to convey.
on August 23, 2007
This novel is narrated by a black girl named Matilda who is reflecting on her time growing up in an island's small village on the fringes of war-torn Papua New Guinea. The village regularly receives news and gossip about the ongoing conflict between the perceived "red-skin invading government" and the black rebels made up of many young men from local villages. They hear about the vandalism and destruction of communities as well as the gruesome murder of many innocent civilians caught in the civil war. However, Matilda is only vaguely aware of this happening in the back ground. At first, she's more concerned with the daily details of life with her protective mother (her father left them some time ago to do business in Australia), playing with her friends and wondering about the local oddity - Mr. Watts (or Pop Eye as the children call him), the only white man in the village, who is occasionally found pulling his mysterious black wife in a cart while wearing a red clown nose. When the children are left with no teacher, Mr. Watts surprisingly comes forward to educate all the local children. However, with no formal teaching skills, he spends the majority of class time reading aloud to them from the novel Great Expectations. Matilda is enraptured by the story and comes to think of its characters as her friends, finding common themes between Pip's life and her own. However, her strict Christian mother is less than pleased about the way Mr. Watts is influencing her daughter. When the fighters come to Matilda's small village, the girl's adoration for the character Pip inadvertently causes a conflict which throws the village into chaos and threatens their peaceful existence.
Jones masterfully re-creates life within this small village using straight-forward, beautifully-wrought prose. He describes the way in which storytelling can powerfully affect people, letting their thoughts and experience meld with the tales to make them wholly personal and unique. The author also manages to subtly make original and profound statements about racial differences. When scenes of horrific violence appear they are delivered with heart-breaking simplicity rather than artistic flourishes. Jones shows the slow painful destruction which war brings, exhausting and maiming the fighters, creating upheaval and chaos in the lives of ordinary citizens and tarnishing the future of the innocents. This is what makes Mister Pip a truly universal tale accessible to anyone. The thing which is shown to survive, beyond all the villagers' physical possessions, is their imagination and memory. They are what allow Matilda to reconnect with her past and rebuild her identity out of the ashes. She eventually discovers Mr. Watts has hidden stories of his own as does her beloved author Mr. Dickens. Though she endures a painful amount of hardship, it feels like a kind of victory that Matilda's own story can survive despite her childhood world being erased by the march of history.
This is only the first of New Zealand author Lloyd Jones' numerous novels to be published in the UK and US. Hopefully, his back catalogue will become available to the west soon.
on March 4, 2008
Life can change without warning. That's one of the recurring notes sounded by Matilda Laimo, the likeable, self-effacing narrator of MISTER PIP, as she looks back on her early adolescence on a small island village in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea in the early 90s. It's a note of both warning and hope, for she was trapped on the island at the worst of times--during a ruthless, atrocity-ridden civil war--yet somehow managed to survive it. That's the one lifeline (the Mr. Jaggers--you'll learn what this means) that Lloyd throws his readers from the outset: Matilda has lived to tell her tale, we just don't know how or at what cost.
MISTER PIP's plot is likewise full of changes without warning: I didn't always know what would come next in this novel, which I found alternately heartwarming, repellant, funny, horrifying, sad, strange, uplifting. Early on, I thought I was in for another charming but sentimental homage to a teacher, that the "background chorus" of gunfire erupting from the Bougainville blockade would remain just that, an excuse for a group of trapped tropical island students to fall under the spell of a maverick teacher who reads them, of all things, GREAT EXPECTATIONS. And who would be the Donat/Poitier/Williams to star in its movie? I didn't pay enough attention to Matilda's forewarnings: "What I am about to tell results, I think, from our ignorance of the outside world." Eventually that world invades the village with a steadily increasing brutality that I won't soon, maybe ever, forget, and all my notions of getting cozy with the students as they listen to installments of Dickens were quickly disabused. There are many complex turns in this book, many levels of civil war, mysteries within mysteries, and in the end, Mister Pip couldn't be less sentimental; it has moments as bleak and soul-shriveling as THE HEART OF DARKNESS.
It's difficult to speak about this or any novel without giving too much of its story away, but it might be worth knowing for some that there are spoilers galore in MISTER PIP for GREAT EXPECTATIONS; you'll get a kind of SparkNotes overview of the latter. I wonder, in fact, what the experience of reading MISTER PIP without knowing GREAT EXPECTATIONS would be like--a call I can't make, having read it a number of times. I suspect, though, that Lloyd does depend on readers' familiarity with Dickens in some way because despite his many weighty themes--race, atrocity, surviving atrocity, sacrifice, strained mother/daughter relationships, crucial life lessons, abandonment, fatal misunderstandings and clashes of culture--his MISTER PIP is first and foremost about reading and the love of literature. About story as survival and the ability of novels, as Matilda says, to supply you with another world when you desperately need one. And what book lover doesn't cross paths, sooner or later, with GREAT EXPECTATIONS? If not before MISTER PIP, then I bet soon after.
on August 30, 2007
In "Mister Pip", Lloyd Jones weaves a narrative that will transform lives... in a voice that lives on long after the final page.
During the 1990 blockade of Bougainville, a south Pacific island rich in copper, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens's classic Great Expectations. So begins this brilliant award-winning novel about the strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip.
A private, linen-suited figure with a native wife, Mr. Watts is a mystery to the children of the island But Matilda's fascination with the story of Pip begins to trouble her devout, practical-minded mother. She starts to wage a not-so-silent campaign against Mr. Watts and nineteenth-century England, and the distance between her and Matilda, who is immersed in the new world of Dickens, grows.
Then the real war, which has been inching closer every day, arrives. The redskin soldiers visit the island and come to believe that Pip, the central character of Great Expectations, is a real, live man, being hidden by the villagers. Vengeance is extracted in increasingly terrible ways as the island fails to produce him. Yet as the villagers lose almost everything, for the children and Mr. Watts, the imaginary world exerts a stronger pull than ever. And for a moment, the power of story-telling seems as though it will save everyone.
The narrator's voice is that of Matilda, a village girl. She was named by the Australians who opened up the world's richest copper mine in Bougainville, and her name stands throughout as ironic comment on responsibilities intimate and global. Lloyd Jones has a special insight into the intricacies of the human situation - intimate and global.
Lloyd Jones, writing with the voice of an adolescent girl, is a middle-aged New Zealand author who has mastered a great novel: Wrought with the purity of grief, urgent in every cadence, and expanded by a faint lingering hope. But the end does not bring wonder but despair. And that's a wonder in itself, that such a grim subject can still carry something as luminous and as revealing to us readers worlds away from a forgotten village on the pacific.
This book reminds me of the high;y acclaimed book Upland Road from AlpharPublish.com in that it explores the effects of a foreign civilization on children from a south pacific culture.
Enjoy the book! Dr. Thomas Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org. Author of The Progress Of Man,Hillary
on May 4, 2016
Mister Pip written by Lloyd Jones focuses on the power of imagination and the ability of literature to act as an escape from reality. Mr. Watt is one of the few remaining white men after the war begins on the island of Bougainville. He becomes a teacher for the native children of the island and uses Charles Dicken's Great Expectations to teach the children about the importance of imagination. Pip is significant to Jones's novel because he is the main character of Great Expectations that Mr. Watts uses to show the children about foreign ideas and morals. Mister Pip expresses the conditions of war, tension between people of different races, and the importance of education.
Mister Pip emphasizes the relationship between Mr. Watts, a white man, and the native islanders of Bougainville, black people. There is lots of tenstion between the adult islanders, including Dolores, Matilda's mom, and Mr. Watts. Meanwhile the children of the island, especially Mr. Watts star pupil, Matilda, all get along with and look up to Mr. Watts. Mr. Watts uses Great Expectations to teach the children about a world they do not know. He shows them a world they can escape to. This is helpful as the island is in a time of war which largely affects the quality of life for the islanders.
Living in a place of war largely consumes Jones's plot. The war turns friends against each other, such as when an islanders brother returns from the rambo camp and the community is "scared the redskins [will] discover him, which would make [them] a rebel village" (Jones 82). The fear of what the redskins are capable of keeps the islanders from offering help to the rebel group. This expresses the power of fear to readers and sheds light on a mostly unexperienced topic.
Tension between white people and black people in this book provides commentary on not belonging. This is seen when Mr. Watts comments on "being as lonely as the last mammoth" (Jones 112). Both racial groups feel like they do not belong amongst the other due to emphasis that society puts on the color of their skin. This idea is also known in todays society, feeling different or having a sense that one does not belong is common and relatable. This intensifies the bond the reader feels to Mister Pip's characters and amplifies the books message of war, equality, and imagination.
Lloyd Jone's book also comments on the importance of education. This idea is expressed through Mr. Pip who gives himself to the children of the island, and encourages the elders of the island to share their knowledge with the young. Jones emphasizes the importance of literature through Mr. Watts emphasis on the importance of Great Expectations. For example, Matilda comments that, "No one had ever told us kids to look there [in a book] for a friend. Or that you could slip inside the skin of another. Or travel to another place. . ." (Jones 24).
Lloyd Jones uses his novel Mister Pip to bring the experience of living in war to america's door. He expresses the effect feeling different can have on a man's behavior, and analyses the way literature can help readers escape the misfortune of their lives.
on March 5, 2008
"Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones is the sad tale of a young woman's struggle with her very adult world. The tale illuminates on how literature can affect our daily lives and it is through Dicken's "Great Expectations" that the young woman, Matilda, learns to cope with her war-wraught world. The novel teaches her how to survive but, most importantly, how to make her voice heard in a place where individuals are lost to the vastness of the world and society. Although this theme emerges late in the novel, Matilda's moments of ephiphany evoke powerful and emotional responses.
For most of the novel the connection between Dicken's masterpiece and Matilda's life is difficult to recognize. However, one of the most important lines in the book is when the young protagonist realizes just how small and insignificant are her struggles. "This time the whole village listened in wonder, sitting by a small fire on an island all but forgotten, where the most unspeakable things happened without once raising the ire of the outside world" (166). She struggles to find her own significance and even loses a desire to live. However, the novel strongly connects with literature lovers when Matilda realizes that works are written because of the human experience. It is here where the slow beginning and unclear themes are redeemed. The reader is reminded of the time where they, too, realized that literature reflects the stories of our lives.
on September 7, 2009
Mr Pip ,by LLoyd Jones, is an onion of a novel. By that I mean it is layered in an intricately woven manner to encompass a myriad of themes. At first it is a deceptively simple tale set on the lush tropical island of Bouganville where the native population,isolated and blockaded, are facing a civil war of deprivation and horror.Into the mix comes the only white inhabitant who remained after others fled,Mr Watts. He steps up to take over the abandoned schoolhouse and thus becomes the Pied Piper of Bouganville. Through his storytelling of Dicken's Great Expectations he provides a safe haven for the war stricken children . They immediately succomb to the power of the written word and are transported to Victorian England where they meet Pip who in some ways is like each one of them. Imagination takes them away from the immediate horror of civil war. Mr Pip becomes a savior of sorts especially to Matilda, the young Narrator. But Mr Watt's hold on the children causes issues with the parents who see his approach as a threat to religious beliefs and cultural allegiance. These differences of culture and dogmatic approach lead to a stand off between Mr Watts and Dolores, Matilda's mother. This clash will create unlikely heroes as the war encroaches and moral decisions must be made. There is great symbolism here for a world where races and cultures face major changes in an ever more global world. When the only copy of Great Expectations disappears and the soldiers demand to see a fictional Mr Pip,(who they believe to be a real spy) there are terrible reprecussions. Storytelling becomes the weapon of choice at first, as it soothes the savage rambos who are really just misguided school children at heart.The seven nights of Mr Watts' storytelling are a heroic vehicle to stall until an escape plan is put into effect. But storytelling has created a great dilemma too, as there is no real Mr. Pip to offer up to the demanding redskins who appear savagely and without warning. I will not divulge any more of the plot but suffice it to say that Great Expectations causes major life changing effects as Matilda moves into a future off the island. The novel is a homage to literature, to teachers who change destinies, to clashes of cultures and racial divides, to the horrors of war ,to the power of the written word , to the empowering value of imagination and to the religious and moral values that sometimes must collide and clash before there can be compromises. This small novel offers huge issues to ponder . Mr Jones has exceeded many expectations with this novel.
on October 7, 2007
Many have summarized the story which in itself is spellbinding; I knew nothing of the conditions of the Civil War in this part of the world and it was interesting to hear it told from "the ground up" -- from the eyes of a young woman living through it.
The writing in this book is just beautiful. It was one that when I finished the last page, I immediately went back to the first to begin again. The character of Matilda is one that I will long remember. The author has managed to tell a wonderful story in such a readable and memorable manner. The language is beautiful but not overdone; the sentences are short and filled with impact. I don't think there is a spare word in the entire book. There is unspeakable violence in the book, but it is never overdone, and the affect of the violence on the individuals of the island helps explain that seemingly blank look we see too often on TV news clips of violence in third world countries.
Although I was familiar with Great Expectations, I don't believe one would have to be because this is a story about a story and its impact on a young girl. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a truly thought provoking yet readable and loving book (there is a lot of love in this book).
on August 2, 2013
Mr. Pip is one of those sleep books. We read it as part of a book club read from our local library. It takes place in New Guinea in an area that is known as Bougainville. All the places are real, they can be located on a map. The people are also real, in terms of fictional real. There is a level of violence that is distrubing in this book. but, it is violence that should be acknowledged as existing. The characters are very well developed. The plot is convoluted and twisted and the story gets more complex as you read on. If you haven't read the book by Dickens, Great Expectations, look it up or reread it before starting Mr. Pip. the character Mr. Pip is taken from Great Expectations. From there the story unfolds. There is a town, the town is under attack through no fault of their own, there is an Australian mining company that is raping the land in order to get at their copper, the people of the land get virtually nothing in return. Some of the natives are hired by this company and the native New Guineans are treated as second class citizens in their own country. But, there is no education and the people are so backward and primitive that one wonders if there is any hope. Then come one white man and he sets himself up as a teacher in this village. He brings in Great Expectations and reads 59 chapters to these children. Imagine a book that takes place in 19th century England being read to New Guinea islanders who have no concepts of streets, horses, plumbing, buildings, etc. The influence on the children is great and the story is told through the eyes of these villagers. It is one of those books that one might consider life changing. The violence is disturbing but it is worth it.