Lloyd Jones – Mister Pip

07Sep09


Set in Papua New Guinea, in the 1990s, this book is narrated by Matilda, an adolescent, who witnesses the horrors of civil war first hand. The book opens with many people fleeing the island, and it being lost to the outside world, as the ‘redskins’ (the government soldies) and the ‘rambos’ (rebels) advances.

One white man (“the last white man on the island“), however, commonly referred to as Pop Eye, stays on in the village, despite the odds of him fleeing being far greater than some of the others. Mr. Watts is his name, and he’s a massive fan of Dickens. The responsibility of teaching the children falls on him, and he reads them the epic novel, Great Expectations, which allows the children’s imagination to run away to the Victorian England, and befriend Pip (the protagonist of Great Expectations).

During the blockade, we could not waste fuel or candles. But as the rebels and the redskins went on butchering one other, we had another reason for hiding under the cover of night. Mr. Watts had given us kids another world to spend the night in. We could escape to another place. It didn’t matter that it was Victorian England. We found we could easily get there. It was just the blimmin’ dogs and the blimmin’ roosters that tried to keep us here.

The redskins mistake Pip to be an actual person, though – the result of a shrine created by Matilda on the beach – and, they initiate a horrific manhunt, which leads to the thin line between reality and fiction being erased. Houses and possessions are burnt down, makeshift roofs are created, and the children continue trying to find an escape in the world so artfully created by Dickens.

This is an amazing book, that brings in multifarious cultural thoughts and highlights the great divides. For example, Matilda’s mother believes that Mr. Watts is not providing the children with proper education, due to the lack of religious education. Instead, he spends time talking of a fictional character which doesn’t exist, and says that the devil is a symbol.

It’s barbaric, emotional, heart-wrenching and fascinating. There’s despair, which is always highlighted by hope. There are sacrifices made, nightmarish experiences, death, and the consequences of each decision render the reader awed and despondent. I cannot help but wonder what would’ve been, if Matilda’s mother had not made that one impulsive decision…

The power of story-telling, the wonder of literature, and the importance of the imagination are themes so beautifully brought out, that they almost perfectly accentuate the diabolic war. Beauty and ugliness will always be held in the same hand.

This is the second book by Lloyd Jones that I’ve read in recent times, and I have to say that I found The Book Of Fame more lyrical, although the story didn’t really appeal to me. However, the story of Mister Pip is amazing, but I found myself yearning for the writing present in The Book Of Fame.

Rating: 4

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12 Responses to “Lloyd Jones – Mister Pip”

  1. I haven’t read this book, but my younger sister studied it in high school, and she was telling me that she quite enjoyed it. I might want to have a look into it a little later, but do you reckon I should read “Great Expectations” first?

    And I also came by to let you know that I’ve awarded you with something. =)
    Come see on my blog.

    • Yeah, I think so… If for nothing else, Great Expectations is a GREAT book! Honestly. And Mister Pip is amazing – I wondered for the longest time why the book was called Mister Pip (and not just “Pip”, or something) and when that unfolds, it’s a piece of sheer genius.

      Thanks for the award :)

  2. I enjoyed reading Mr Pip too. I only wished that I had read Great Expectations more recently, as I had forgotten about most of it when I started Mr Pip.

    I haven’t read any of his other books, but am interested in reading The Book of Fame now.

    • Ahh, The Book Of Fame is one of my biggest dilemmas. I just don’t care enough about rugby, and subsequently, I found large chunks repetitive (it was mostly scorelines and the amount of space devoted to the All Blacks in the newspapers). However, if you’re a sucker (like me) for lyrical writing, pick it up. I don’t think you’ll enjoy the story itself though. Or the lack thereof.

  3. Mr Pip really is amazing. I think I would like to reread it one of these days and Great Expectations just before.

    Pleased you loved it.

    • Yeah! It definitely goes on the re-read shelf. Seems like one of those books you get more from each time you read it.

      And there’s never a bad time to re-read Great Expectations :)

  4. 7 novelinsights

    I haven’t read Great Expectations but I loved Mr Pip. I should think it will give me a different perspective when I finally get round to reading that. Come to think of it I should probably read some Dickens!

    • Dickens is great! I don’t think you have to read Great Expectations to appreciate Mister Pip though. The book carries amazingly on its own!

      However, if you have some time, I’d highly recommend Great Expectations!

  5. I really really want to read this book! There isn’t enough literature about PNG/south pacific island culture and I’m keen to get my teeth in some! (Dickens crossover is definitely a bonus)

    • I’d love to see your thoughts on the book – Dickens crossover and everything! I’d recommend it very highly!

      You’re right about the lack of literature about that part of the globe. I can’t think of any others, to be honest.

  6. I have just finished reading Mister Pip and absolutely loved the story. I started reading Great Expectations several times many years ago but never finished it; this didn’t stop me enjoying Mister Pip, although I’m keen to have another go at Dickens. If you’re interested, here is my review:
    http://bloggingcafechick.blogspot.com/2009/09/mister-pip.html


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