Mr. Pip –
By Lloyd Jones
Reviewed by Joan Gauthier
“Mr. Watts said it is best to wait until all the facts are known”. Matilda tells her mother one night. At the time little did she realize the importance of this statement in the events that were yet to unfold.
Matilda lives with her mother on Bougainville, a mineral rich island in the South Pacific, and as Lloyd Jones begins his tale, we find the island in the centre of a civil war with red-skinned soldiers buzzing around in helicopters, searching for the “Rambo” rebels who have taken to the jungle to hide. The villagers have been left to fend for themselves as all those who could, including their teacher, left on the last boat to the mainland. Out of necessity, the villagers find themselves slowly reverting to the old way of living before the British came. The only remaining white man, whom the village children have always considered an oddity, steps up to open the school again and armed with no text-books other than one copy of Dicken’s Great Expectations, becomes their self-appointed teacher.
As he reads the story of Pip to the enthralled group of children, they are transported to another time and place but where the lives of the characters have a similar parallel to their own. As we see Magwitch hiding in the graveyard from those in authority, so we see Matilda and her mother hiding in the jungle from a different, but just as frightening group of people in authority. Matilda develops a strong affinity with Pip, and like Pip is forced to make certain choices, and like Pip, suffers both the consequences and rewards of those decisions.
When she is able to clear up a misunderstanding with the visiting soldiers, by simply producing the novel Great Expectations she chooses not to, in order to save her mother from the embarrassment of admitting that she had stolen it Matilda will forever have to live with the fact that had she chosen differently she would have saved her village from the unspeakable punishments inflicted on them by the soldiers.
David Lloyd has set his novel in a place where atrocities happen amid the most beautiful of settings. His story is a testament to the human spirit, which is able to pick up the pieces of a shattered life and keep going. I completely bought in to concept of the narrator being a young girl and I found myself surprised at the end of the book when his photograph reminded me that it had been written by a man.
Even given some of the more disturbing events that took place I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to engage in a book where the characters are captivating and indulge in an entrancing read.