Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

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Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Buy Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Beautifully written with not a word wasted, Great Expectations meets tropical island in this look at the love of reading, the terrors of war, post-colonialism and personal integrity. Highly, highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Hodder Murray
ISBN: 978-0719569944

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You probably remember Bougainville from its secessionist conflict. During the island's struggle for independence from Papua Guinea, the New Guinean government employed Sandline International, a mercenary group, and the ensuing scandal brought down the administration. Bougainville eventually won itself an autonomous government, but not without cost.

Mister Pip is set during this time. Papua New Guinea is blockading the island and most of the white professionals have packed up and left. The adolescent Matilda and her fellow islanders are left alone to face the violence of the insurgents - rambos and the harsh tactics of the government troops employed to put down the revolt - redskins. But there is one white man left in Matilda's village. Mr Watts, known as Pop Eye, is married to an islander. The couple are figures of fun really - Pop Eye dons a clown's red nose to tow his wife around as she sits in a shopping trolley. Aside from thinking them completely barmy, nobody takes too much notice.

However, when the school closes, Pop Eye steps in. He has little practical information to impart to his new pupils, but he does have a book; Great Expectations. As he reads aloud to the children, he begins to show them new worlds - both real and imagined. And as their horizons widen, so the insurgency closes in...

It's just, y'know, utterly gorgeous. An old romantic at heart, I love a blend of fantasy and realism. I also enjoy it when beautiful words are crafted, like a melody, onto an underlying darkness. Think Walk on the Wild Side or any Stone Roses number for a musical equivalent. Mister Pip ticks all my boxes. It blends fantasy and reality, it does it with beautiful words and from the direct, honest point of view of a child. It describes perfectly the islanders' agonising wait for inevitable disaster. It speaks of the redemptive power of books, of race and the contradictions in post-colonialism. It turns a clear eye to the question of personal courage and integrity.

It could have been trite, schmaltzy even, but it isn't. There are more shades of meaning than you could shake a stick at, and Mister Pip, I am sure, will repay second and third readings. I wonder if each reader will take something different from it, in their own private worlds, as well as absorbing the many and varied points of view on offer. Any avid reader, particularly one who came to books at an early age, will be entranced by it. Who can resist a novel that says, in its very first chapter:

We had grown up believing white to be the colour of all the important things, like ice-cream, aspirin, ribbon, the moon, the stars. White stars and a full moon were more important when my grandfather grew up than they are now that we have generators.

Ouch. I defy you not to love it.

You might also enjoy The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, while another illuminating look at post-colonial affairs can be found in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun.

Booklists.jpg Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is in the Richard and Judy Shortlist 2008.

Booklists.jpg Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is in the Top Ten Books For Your Auntie.

Booklists.jpg Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is in the Top Ten War Novels.

Booklists.jpg Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is in the Top Ten Adult Books That Teens Should Read.

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Buy Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones at Amazon.com.

From the shortlist for the 2007 Booker prize for fiction we have also reviewed:

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Animal's People by Indra Sinha


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Magda said:

Oh, I didn't know that the "redskins" were mercenaries (read the Blackwater book recently but was rather disappointed, actually) - I tried to work them out, but couldn't udnerstand why Papuan soldiers would be called so.

What I liked in particular about Mr Pip was how the story was used and reused, merging with the reality and with the local folklore to; and shaping it and being shaped by it. Also, what some Amazon reveiwers protested, how something fairly benign at first turned into an utter horror, eventually.

Did you think that the post-island section was unnecessary, or rushed, or something?

Jill replied:

Yes, I think the last couple of dozen pages could have been, well, better. But the rest of it was so enchanting, I really didn't mind.