No Expectations

by nigelcrowe

Situated on the war-torn island of Bougainville in the South Pacific, Lloyd Jones’ novel “Mister Pip” finds the reader experiencing life through the eyes of thirteen year old Matilda. Due to the tumultuous political climate, all teachers and foreign dignitaries have fled from the island, save one, the mysterious white man commonly referred to by the villagers as Pop Eye, aka, Mr. Watts. Being one of the few remaining people with an education, by default, Mr. Watts takes on the task of being the village school teacher. It is through Mr. Watts that Matilda comes to meet a certain Mr. Dickens, more commonly known as seventeenth century author, Charles Dickens. Every class, Mr. Watts reads a chapter from the novel Great Expectations out loud to the class, transporting Matilda away from the horrible realities of her real life to Victorian England, where she immerses herself in the adventures of her new found friend, Mr. Pip (to whom the title of the novel not-so-subtly alludes).
As indicated in the opening sentence of this review, readers are implored both implicitly and explicitly to actively participate in experiencing the novel. As Mr. Watts says, “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.” This is truly the case with “Mister Pip”. Presented through the perspective of the protagonist, readers will find themselves thrown heart, mind and body into the novel. Even the most learned adult will find their minds temporarily clear of over-intellectualized worries and completely engrossed in the stark realities of life in Bougainville being expressed with childlike honesty through the narrative voice of Matilda.
As far as the title is concerned, it is safest that one does not approach “Mister Pip” with great expectations. While the novel is brilliant in its own right, the allusion to Charles Dickens’ work in the title may cause readers to pick up “Mister Pip” with the wrong predispositions. Jones’ writing is very stark and plain compared to that of Dickens, but it is this simplicity that allows it to be so effective in communicating the author’s intended message. Sometimes, omitting details expresses them more strongly than dwelling on them.
I would suggest “Mister Pip” for anyone from eighth grade to eighty years of age. While the subject matter would perhaps be too heavy and complex for a younger audience, the clear, succinct writing and engaging literary voice would make this novel an enthralling and enriching experience for readers of all ages. To conclude, as Mr. Watts said, “The truest thing I can tell you is that whatever we have between us is all we’ve got. Oh, and of course Mr. Dickens.”

Bibliography

Jones, Lloyd. Mister Pip. Toronto: Random House, 2007.

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