Mister Pip

by jenniemacphee

by Jennie MacPhee

Lloyd Jones’ acclaimed novel Mister Pip is a captivating story full of emotion set in a quiet and nearly abandoned island in the South Pacific.  Written as a first-person narrative, a young girl named Matilda leads the reader through her life on the island that has been shattered by war and the dangerous consequences of childhood imagination.

Matilda is one of the few citizens to remain at her home while all of the school teachers and  most of the families have fled.  One man who chooses to stay behind is the mysterious and eccentric Mr. Watts, who happens to be the only white person on the island.  He opens up the schoolhouse and volunteers to teach the children, and the only lesson he has to offer is reading his copy of Great Expectations by Mr. Dickens.  As the children, quickly followed by the entire village, become enthralled by a young character named Pip, the novel begins to delve into the human conditions of imagination and obsession.  As we explore these conditions through the island people, we see that Jones is also presenting several difficult moral situations for us to consider.  Their imaginations grow wild as they dream of a bigger, more fulfilling world outside their own.  But during a time and place where daily survival is the only objective and there is little time for fun and games, we are reminded that sometimes imagination, even for children, can come with very dangerous consequences.

Although the life of a teenage girl is being told by a 50-something year old male, Lloyd Jones writes in a style that is believable and compelling.  The way in which Jones describes how Western culture has and continues to affect indigenous cultures makes Mister Pip a very convincing story.  It is sometimes easy to forget that this is a novel and not a personal memoir.  However, the simplicity of how he describes the atrocities that take place, including the murders of Mr. Watts and Matilda’s mother is more than an understatement.


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