Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mr. Pip - Lloyd Jones

I just finished my first book for the ORBIS TERRARUM Challenge – Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand).

Mr. Pip takes place on a small island – Bougainville - that’s in the midst of a civil war. As the battle rages between rebels and the government's forces, the village is increasingly cut off from the outside world. Only one white man remains – Mr. Watts, known as Pop Eye to the villagers. He lives with a villager – Grace, but the two don't interact with the rest of the village. That changes when Mr. Watts offers to teach the children, who no longer have a school teacher.

Every day, Mr. Watts reads a chapter of Great Expectations. The narrator, Matilda, finds herself drawn to Pip’s world. Her increasing fascination with Great Expectations causes tension at home, with her mother worrying that Mr. Watts is leading the children astray. She distrusts Mr. Watts because he does not share her faith in God and is worried Matilda is becoming disconnected from her family's values and traditions.

“As we progressed through the book something happened to me. At some point I felt myself enter the story. I hadn’t been assigned a part – nothing like that; I wasn’t identifiable on the page, but I was there, I was definitely there. I knew that orphaned white kid and that small, fragile place he squeezed into between his awful sister and lovable Joe Gargery, because the same space came to exist between Mr. Watts and my mum. And I knew I would have to choose between the two.”

On the surface Matilda and Pip have nothing in common – she’s a black girl growing up on an isolated island in the grips of civil war in the 1990s, he’s an English orphan in the 1800s. But Dicken’s story transcends boundaries and helps provide Matilda with a refuge where her imagination can take flight.

“People sometimes ask me “Why Dickens?,” which I always take to be a gentle rebuke. I point to the one book that supplied me with another world at a time when it was desperately needed. It gave me a friend in Pip. It taught me 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, if that isn’t an act of magic I don’t know what is.”

Mr. Pip shows us the magic of books - that they can cross time, race and geography. That when the imagination is sparked, we learn we can truly transcend even hardships. The stories Mr. Watts and the children's mothers tell draws the reader in.


I wasn’t aware when reading Mr. Pip that the island Bougainville exists and it did undergo a civil war.

A Bougainvillian Gives Mr Pip The Thumbs-Up -

Bougainville Backgrounder -

Mr. Pip also won the Kiriyama Prize,

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