Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in 2007. Books with pedigree always make me nervous. What if I don’t like it? What does that say about me as a reader? No chance of not liking Mister Pip, though. This is a terrific book.
Thirteen-year-old Matilda lives on the tropical island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. Many of the island’s inhabitants have fled, including Matilda’s father, because of a brutal civil war. Redskins and rambos are fighting, and the island is all but cut off from civilization. The only white inhabitant left in the village is a man called Mr. Watts, also known as Pop Eye. It is decided that he will teach the children, as the school teachers have all fled.
As they clean up the building they will use as a school room, Mr. Watts tells the children “I want this to be a place of light, no matter what happens.”
Mr. Watts begins to read the children Great Expectations which he claims is “the greatest novel by the greatest English writer of the nineteenth century.” And as Pip’s story unfolds, so does Jones’ novel. Not everyone agrees with Mr. Watts’ estimation of Dickens’ worth. Matilda’s mother, Dolores, in particular thinks Mr. Watts should be teaching the children about God and the devil. She and Mr. Watts are adversaries, but there can be no mistaking the impact Watts is having on Matilda.
Mister Pip is a fantastic book about the power of reading and imagination. It is also a powerful and startling novel about bravery and sacrifice, love and forgiveness.
I can not recommend it highly enough.