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In a novel that is at once intense beautiful and fablelike Lloyd Jones weaves a transcendent story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform our livesOn a copper rich tropical island shattered by war where the teachers have fled with most everyone else only one white man chooses to stay behind the eccentric Mr Watts object of much curiosity and scorn who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens's classic Great ExpectationsSo begins this rare original story about the abiding 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 in a city called London a city whose contours soon become real than their own blighted landscape As Mr Watts says “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe” Soon come the rest of the villagers initially threatened finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective imagination can be a dangerous thing

10 thoughts on “Mister Pip

  1. says:

    For the love of everything holy I'm adding to this review because 1 apparently it pops up as a freuently read review for the novel and 2 apparently people have a LOT of feelings about this review and feel very strongly they should tell me exactly how and why I am wrong about it And look I would be 100% for that if it were debate about the text and interpretative merit etc and there are a few commenters who do get into that and that's an interesting debate to have because truly there is not one authoritative reading of a text But many of the comments that pop up trend along lazy assumptions about me as a reader the you clearly just don't get it variety or the most recent you clearly doesn't know history That's possible but I'm re posting here to say I think I do get it but I think the novel did it poorly and that I do know the history and that's why I wish the novel did a better job with it There was also a this is just over analysis clap back which yes? That is the exact point of literary analysis so you got me thereMy original review remains in its entirety below At the time I didn't add a lot of layers to it because the book merited very few in my opinion and because there were other books to read and other shit to do But sweet mother mary I'm adding some layers now because people's feelings about my review keep popping up in my Goodreads notifications and whereas I rightly treat the rest of the internet as the cesspool of anonymous commenters and trolls that it is and thus pay it no mind Goodreads is a scared place and I will not let such shenanigans stand Je refuseLet me put some presuppositions to rest before the entirety of Goodreads comes at me about howwhy wrong I am about this novel I am very much aware if not overly schooled in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea history including the bloody civil war that spanned the late 80's and 90's on Bougainville Island In my current work I'm keenly aware of how the peace accord signed only in 2001 still is very relevant for the human rights situation regionally At any rate that's not to say I couldn't learn but I very much get that this book is a sort of historical fiction or in the very least rooting itself in a history in doing such it's giving us a different way to understandsee history and the way that some people survived and survive the horrors of war conflict and loss I just don't think it's doing it particularly well AND I think it's doing it through a particularly troubling lens but on that later Another relevant piece I have a PhD in literature with an emphasis in gender and race studies and I taught literature for many years before a career change and used sections of this very text before This doesn't mean that I definitely right about this or any book or that my opinion is better or smarter than others' opinions but it means that I used to read think about and write about books for a living and that now outside of academia I still think about many texts critically and thoughtfully for exceptions please see my reviews of fantasy series which boil down to I love this and don't care whyAnd so when I say I hated this book which I very much did I say it in a context in which 1 I get there is a history behind this book that this book is trying to reflect and 2 I think a lot about how books try to achieve certain ends and whether or not they get there To me Mr Pip told a history poorly superficially and with a troubling lens For all its allusion to complexity the novel does not move far beyond stereotypes and relies on literary cliches you have a mysterious wisecooky older white man a suspicious black mother figure an absolutely flat character machete wielding rebel who should just wear a bad guy sign to put a nail in that coffin The children are drawn to Pop Eye Mr Watts for no apparent reason other than their affinity for all thing white we had grown up believing white to be the color of all important things Which itself could be an interesting deconstruction of the power of white mythology and colonial influence But the novel never challenges or deconstructs this affinity for whiteness only reinforces it with the focus on Pop Eye and a sentimental adherence to the lessons of Great Expectations a Victorian English novel written by a white male author can teach cultural context be damnedIt presents to us and in the plot to the island Dickens' Great Expectations as a sort of civilizing sacred text bringing vast imaginative opportunities to otherwise simple island life The white wise teacher with a white wise text becomes the moral instructor for the children of the island and their back woodsy parents as well And he is soft spoiler then ueued up for an act of great white heroism by the endIt's a book about the transformative power of fiction and thus asks us to take the power of literature very seriously which is exactly what I'm doing when I say I think it's reductive heavy handed has tinges if not overt overtures of colonial nostalgia and has a uestionable gaze told through the eyes of a local black 13 year old girl but one who affects the gaze of a white reader Look this book was shorted for the Man Booker prize and loads of people including some literary critics and clearly many goodreads readers really liked it That's great I don't think they're dummies or racist asshats for thinking so But I disagree that the book transcends anything other than a tired post colonial theme of self reinvention through white eyesI also thought the pacing was bad The end original reviewI hated this book Let me tell you why this novel read like this look at this poor uneducated island and these poor noble savage ignorant and simple black people who are caught in the middle of a violent conflict between the savage black rebels who will eventually sell you out and the even savage redskins no joke redskins who terrorize you rape you and machete you into pieces they will then feed to a pig The violence indeed the whole setting seemed wildly superfluous The novel was like the literary version of that horrific Mel Gibson movie Apocolypto or however you spell it which was basically a 2 hour long version of ooooh look at the savages and how savage they are Aren't they savage To add insult to injury the only civilizing force on the island is a white man who sprinkles down the magic of white civilization imagination and joy by reading Great Expectations Look I loved Tale of Two Cities but Great Expectations? Come on Someone needs to tell this author we've moved on from Colonialism or at least we try to pretend we have We call it Post Colonialism now We don't write about people of other races as though only we and our white civilization can save them like they are only there for us to be saved like they are only brutalized victims or brutal victimizers And we definitely don't do it while self righteously clinging to Great Expectations as a panacea for human understanding Very Shakespeare in the Bush only without the actual intentions of finding anything out about the power of literature instead it just reads as the power of the white ego

  2. says:

    This is when two and a half stars would be handy I really couldn't stand this book for a couple of reasons when I first started reading it It has a narrative voice that sounds like an oldish adult trying to sound like a five year old Jones writes in staccato sentences that are occasionally poetic but often tend toward a voice I will refer to as Tragic Deadpan a voice that was also used to disastrous effect in Octavia Butler's writing It is uniuely unenlightening on the plight of the Papuan masses though I can now rest assured that I should be glad not to be a member of that immiserated bunch Worst of all toward the beginning the novel reads like Dead Poets Society type teacher schmaltz Being a teacher does sensitize one to the presumption that a good teacher is a combination of Erasmus Steve Martin and Mother TeresaBut the ending was really good in an inconclusive life sucks Coetzee kind of way I wasn't expecting it to go in uite the direction that it did; I certainly wasn't expecting it to be as horrifyingly violent especially since a lot of it is YA than Bookeresue It also made me go directly on to my fourth attempt to read Bleak House no small feat Anyway read it and let me know what you think And maybe you can explain to me why everyone is saying this book takes place on some anonymous island when we are told that a the village in uestion has copper mines nearby b the place is within boating distance of the Solomons and c the main character's father worked in Arawa? All of which narrow it down to Bougainville?

  3. says:

    Re reading a firm favourite can be salutary a cure for that breathless over enthusiasm that marked the initial reaction I'm not sure if anything can recapture the emotional punch in the solar plexus this book gave me the first time round Appalled outrage at the fact that the civil war in the 1990s on the island of Bougainville which blasts devastation through the narrator's life was barely reported in any Western media; shocked horror at the atrocities all based on fact; painful gut wrenching empathy with the main characters; that gasp of recognition as the plot unfurls; nail biting concern for the fate of Matilda; deep tenderness and appreciation for a whole book dedicated to the power of narrative; joy at those few funny or uplifting moments; satisfaction at a well rounded finishA second read will usually reveal the stitching it is rarely the same seamless slide It can be like seeing the winches pulleys and traps that are necessary to create a stage illusion either your admiration for the cunning construction is confirmed or you're left wondering how you ever fell for itOr can it be a bit of both? What carries this novel is that absolutely convincing voice That deceptively simple voice Straightforward unsentimental modest unsophisticated Short easy sentences in plain English So easy to read that it's easy to overlook the pulleys and ropes The narrator Matilda has a wondrous eye for the telling detail how it's only the dogs and chickens that have names that hide from the helicopters with the people in the jungle She reads body language she sees her mother When she dug in her heels all her heft raced to the surface of her skin It was almost as if there were friction between her skin and the trailing air Hardly the language of a 13 year old but it slips through it works why ever not Maybe it's the grown up Matilda talking thereThe plot is beautifully worked What at first seems to risk turning into cliché the transformative power of an inspirational teacher à la Mr Chips or Mr Keating is first undermined and then complicated turning into a Shakespearian tussle with guilt revenge and redemption One slight caveat it founders a little after the shock of the worst atrocities Matilda has to get out how that is managed is just a little messy and wet and reminiscent of The Mill on the Floss But that was my only uibble not enough to really detract from the sumWhat I did notice this time was that occasionally it got a bit preachy Some of the Big Themes were flagged up a little too obviously a bit too clearly signposted It's not going to be one of those where you can discover and it's all there on the surface for you ready to pick up like a shell from the beach That's fine it is a wondrous thing of beauty with an iridescent pearly sheen that will sit on your shelf and whisper to you again when you hold it to your ear

  4. says:

    This is a fascinating book ostensibly about an isolated island in the south Pacific and its inhabitants caught in a war over a copper mine The lone white man on the island decides to help the children through the tension by reading from Great Expectations and various repercussions follow But the story is so much In fact I think I'll need to read it again to really understand it Right now I'd say it's about the power of stories and how they shape our lives; how they provide context and meaning and explanation in circumstances that can provide none of this This is one to keep on your shelf and go back to The writing is powerful and the characters are hard to shake even after you've finished the book

  5. says:

    What a nearly perfect book especially right after reading the original Pip Great Expectations A white NZ man introduces the black children of the tiny island of Bougainville Papua New Guinea to Great Expectations against a background of civil war with the redskins from the larger island I don't want to give any of the plot away and I recommend that you do not read the jacket cover This is an intensely moving lyrical book

  6. says:

    My friend Rose who also is reading Mister Pip early on described the book as schmaltzy and I am inclined to agree Treacly might be another good word And the book often comes across as condescending toward anyone who isn't white though I'm sure Lloyd Jones didn't mean for it to beIf Mister Pip is ever turned into a movie it's a given that the role of Mr Watts will go to Robin Williams in his inspiring teacher mode but wearing that fucking clown nose from Patch Adams Without giving too much about Mister Pip away the only consolation for those of us who dislike Robin Williams would be Mr Watts' ultimate fate That actually might make the movie worth seeingAlso and this is just a pet peeve of mine but I'm getting pretty tired of supposedly inspiring novels that focus on the act of reading and how much literature enhances our lives Look I know being a dedicated reader is something of a rarity these days but that doesn't justify the number of books out there that glorify the act of reading Just as we don't need dozens upon dozens of movies about film making nor do we need countless television shows about the production of television shows we also don't need this many books about reading It comes across as book porn and it's wearyingOK rant over Despite all my complaints Mister Pip is skillfully written with some nice descriptions of Matilda's island and the people who live on it I just didn't care for the book's theme nor how cloying it often is

  7. says:

    Unconvincing narrator condescending patronizing less than successful end Other than that it's an OK story Note to middle aged white guys think twice before writing as 13 year old black island girl

  8. says:

    I've had this book on my shelf for a few years now and when New Zealand came up as the first country in the Travelling the World challenge it seemed like fate that I'd waited this long to read it Well the author's a Kiwi but the book is actually set on the small tropical island of Bougainville near Papua New Guinea in the 1990s It's the kind of tropical island where communities live in small villages by the beach amidst the jungle living off fish and coconuts chicken and pigs Matilda lives with her mother; her father got a job with the mine and when it closed moved to ueensland for a new job in Townsville they haven't seen him since though postcards and occasional gifts still arrive When the small island descends into war between islanders protesting the environmental impact and poor compensation to the landowners by the copper mine and armed soldiers called redskins by the islanders Matilda's small community does its best to continue on as always even though their young men and boys are leaving to fight with the rebels and they have to hide in the bush every time a helicopter comes byAmongst these deeply black skinned islanders is one white man nicknamed Pop Eye who lives in the old missionary house with his possibly crazy wife Grace Pop Eye or Mr Watts takes it upon himself to teach the village's children in the old abandoned schoolhouse There are no resources for the children but Mr Watts brings an old copy of Great Expectations which he reads to the kids The story and the setting is completely foreign to them but it engages their minds to the fullest and sparks their imaginations Matilda especially thinks of the characters in a personal way and takes a keen interest in Pip writing his name in the sand and decorating it with shellsWhen the soldiers come through and take down the villagers' names the one person unaccounted for is this Pip whose name they found on the beach Ill malnourished and looking almost insane the soldiers are determined to find this missing villager who they believe is a rebel the village is hiding They are unable to believe in Pip being a fictional character and the book itself is missing Without the book Mr Watts gives the children a new task to remember the book and resurrect itThe political and historical backdrop is essentially just that a backdrop to the real themes of the novel but it is one of those skilfully depicted moving and deeply tragic backdrops that provide than context to the main story Set in any other time or place Matilda's story of awakening imagination and the freedom it brings would have little impact or much less anyway The juxtaposition of this comparatively frivolous story of the orphan boy and his great expectations against the frightening reality of armed soldiers and rebels terrorising villagers of the blockade preventing resources from reaching them of the lack of international interest in what was happening on their island is powerful complex and fascinating On a smaller scale Matilda experiences the conflict between her mother a god fearing woman and Mr Watts an atheistAs 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 knew that orphaned white kid and that small fragile place he sueezed 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 pp46 7Not only does the novel express the importance of imagination and of having the words to express yourself but it also shows the timeless uality of great fiction As western students we routinely moan about having to study Shakespeare never really understanding the relevance because the teacher doesn't get it either; it's just on the curriculum But these stories survive and live on in our imaginations for many reasons not least of all the universality of their stories within a white AngloWesternEuropean context mostly Matilda and Mister Pip show that even a black person from a tropical island who can't even picture English marshes or pork pies can relate to the core themes of a story the essentials the characters and their relationships It's a shared human experience isn't it? Take the essential elements of the story and transpose them to an African country or an Asian one would they necessarily change all that much? This is part of what keeps these stories alive at the academic level I'm sureAs a story it's simply and beautifully told in Matilda's older voice and while you might think that by looking back and writing this story as a young well educated woman she would provide adult insight and context I loved that she shared her story as the child she was when it happened; that is with her child's understanding There are moments when Matilda will explain things but you never lose the impression of her as a child and young teenager experiencing all these things You really come to believe in her and her world and care deeply for them allMr Watts or Mister Pip as he was in one sense is another strong character as is Matilda's mother Mr Watts is a curiosity in the village an oddity as is his wife Grace who grew up on the island but left to continue her education returning years later a broken woman in the company of a uiet white man He's a familiar character to us not least because he's identifiable being white and of our world but also because he embodies that subtle sardonic persona that you can find in Dickens and other western works Yet through Matilda's eyes we see and feel his strangeness and our own It's uite wonderfully doneIt's a surprisingly uick read if you have the time to sit down with it and not be distracted and it's easily accessible to younger readers I would say it's a benefit to have read Great Expectations first to better understand the details from the story that are talked about between Mr Watts and the children and also because there are spoilers in this for the older book If you haven't read the Dickens book this might encourage you I hope so it's worth reading

  9. says:

    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 educationMister 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 uality of life for the islandersLiving 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 topicTension 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 euality and imaginationLloyd 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 24Lloyd 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

  10. says:

    Wow I didn't expect this when I started reading What a well told storyThere are opposites throughout idyllic island surroundingVictorian London; peaceful islandrebels militia; Great Expectationsno expectations The juxtapositions are harsh and affective Mr Watts the only white man on the island takes it upon himself to teach the children during times of war after the school has been closed He uses Great Expectations as a textbook teaching the children of a world beyond their own asking them to open their imaginations The parallels similarities between the two worlds are wonderfully interwoven as the story reveals itselfMr Watts will stay with me What a wonderful character Flawed and yet perfect at the same time