People who like books and reading like to read books about books and reading. And as you would assume that novelists are included in that bunch of ‘people’ there are a lot of novels out there with books, reading, libraries and authors as their theme. Mr Pip is a novel about how one novel in particular was an integral part of a girl’s life and the affect it had on her life.
The novel in question is Great Expectations. This was probably the main reason I wanted to read Lloyd Jones’ award-winning novel. I love Dickens and as a result I tend to want to read novels that claim to be about him or one of his novels (look out for Wanting and Hard Times later on in the year). Why do I love Charles Dickens? His works give me great pleasure, and for me, that is one of the best compliments I can give a book. Yes they are long and ye old-e world-e and he loved a bit of over-drama and poor, forlorn females but I love them I tell you. But back to Mr Pip.
Set in PNG in the 1990s during the troubles between mine, rebels, Port Moresby, Francis Ona etc. (if you can’t tell, my understanding of this time in PNG is extremely limited) the lone white man left on the island teaches school by reading Great Expectations to his charges. This man – Mr Watts – is a mystery in himself, and the combination of this and the wondrous spell of ‘Mr Dickens’ entrances the narrator, Matilda, and her fellow pupils.
Throughout the story we learn of the effect Great Expectation‘s protagonist, Pip, has on our own protagonist. We also learn of the simple life she and her fellow villagers are living and the very real fear they live with being the pawns in a battle between the government’s ‘redskins’ and the rebels. In a way it is an easy-to-read non-taxing kind of narrative. A simple story in a way. But it is powerful and though I won’t give it away the climax is all the more affecting because of the ease in which you have read up to it.
I think that is the success of this novel. It appears like a small, easy read but it is actually quite layered. Because you follow most of it through the eyes of a young girl who knows nothing but this small village, I found myself often falling into step with her innocence and merely enjoying her enjoyment in Mr Dickens and Pip. I knew what dangers she and her village were in, I knew there was vast poverty and sorrow, I knew that we couldn’t ignore the rebels, soldiers and coups and I knew that there had to be more to Mr Watts, but tended to join Matilda at her level of understanding of life until we were both forced to face reality.
I can’t say I adored Mr Pip the way I adore Oliver Twist, David Copperfield or Great Expectations, but I can see why it has come in to so much praise. It’s definitely worth a read – if anything because it speaks to us book people of something we can utterly relate to: the power a book (books) has to change, enhance, support and shape our lives.