I love reading novels where books play an important part in the story. Mister Pip is one such book. As you may guess from the title, the book in question in this tale is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I had to read Great Expectations for a high school literature class and adored it (thank you Mrs. Johnson!). In fact, I often compare people to Miss Havisham. (so watch out if you wear a ratty old wedding dress because you may be my next victim!).
Mister Pip is narrated by 13-year old Mathilda, who lives on a tropical island that is caught up in a war. The teacher and most of the male villagers have left. The sole remaining white man, Mr. Watts, takes it upon himself to provide the village’s children with an eduction and so begins reading to them from a copy of Great Expectations. Mathilda quickly becomes utterly fascinated with the novel.
I had never been read to in English before. Nor had the others. We didn’t have books in our homes, and before the blockade our only books had come from Moresby, and those were written in pidgin. When Mr. Watts read to us we fell quiet. It was a new sound in the world. He read slowly so we heard the shape of each word.
Mister Pip is about the power of literature and stories and how they can help us escape the issues we face in our everyday life and how they can influence the way we interact with the world. The very fact that Mr. Watts reads Great Expectations to the villagers ends up having a profound impact on their lives.
This was the first book by Lloyd Jones that I have read. I found it engaging and charming. It wasn’t as much of a light-hearted read as I had initially thought it would be based on the synopsis I read, but I enjoyed the take on how a work of literature could so strongly influence the main character Mathilda’s life. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Book Thief or The Shadow of the Wind, both of which are also novels about how books had an effect on a young person’s life during times of war and unrest.
Mister Pip was awarded the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.