“Mister Pip” by Lloyd Jones
After all, I’m a lifelong die-hard of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” I know Pip and Estella and Magwitch and, of course, Miss Havisham like old friends, revisiting them every now and then when I want a reminder of how good a book can be.
Jones’ story is that of a young girl, Matilda,who lives on Bougainville Island (part of Papua New Guinea) which is ravaged by civil war in the 90s. Matilda’s friends and fellow villagers live every day knowing it could be their last. Just when it seems there’s not much left to live for, the one white guy on the island – Mr. Watts – arrives at the schoolhouse and begins reading “Great Expectations” to the young people.
It’s not a lovely story — these kids/people don’t all get saved due to their learning to love literature. There isn’t even a big inspiring finale “O Captain, My Captain” moment like in Dead Poets Society. Nope. The climax of the book is, frankly, brutal. This is a book about finding wonder in something (like literature) even when the world around you is total crap. Jones is a smart author and keeps the focus on Matilda, who is as splendid a narrator as they come. Mr. Watts is written to be partly wonderful, but mostly just mysterious and maybe even a weirdo. There’s lots of psychology at play, especially when it comes to Matilda’s mother, who doesn’t approve of this strange man and his teachings.
“Mister Pip” is riveting reading, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I still can’t.
*I’d recommend reading “Great Expectations” first, though. Seriously, a lot of the book was enhanced for me because I knew what Watts was talking about. Dickens is not the simplest of writers, and Jones seems to write with the assumption that you, the reader, at least have some idea of the plot of G.E.*
In uber-exciting book-to-film news, “Mister Pip” is being turned into a movie even as I write this, and (SPOILERS!) — in a piece of casting I don’t think could be any more perfect — Hugh Laurie will be playing Mr. Watts.
Spectacular. I’ll be there opening weekend — whenever that may be. (As of today on IMDB, it says 2012 as the release date.)
Did I mention I got this book for $1 at a used book sale? Total Win.