Mr Pip - A story of horror, despair, hope & resurgence through the eyes of a young girl
This is a complex, fictional story with several levels, set in Bourgainville in Papua, New Guinea, in a setting based on a real place & a true historical background, around 1990.
It is told through the eyes of a girl, called Matilda, growing up on the island of Bourgainville, which is in the middle of a war.
The plot is simple enough to understand. The story is told through the eyes of Matilda; we watch her, under extreme conditions, as she moves through adolescence into adulthood.
She is trying to make sense of her narrow world, ravaged by war & without an important father figure other than Mr. Watts (the teacher they call Pop Eye), who, does his best to keep the children occupied by stretching their imaginations & devoting such a lot of time to the whole village.
He decides to teach them the story of Mr Pip and Great Expectations. It is this amazing story that keeps Matilda sane and helps her live through the horrors of the island.
What gives the story credibility is that Matilda is the grown up when she tells her story; because she has shown herself to be intelligent, alert, imaginative & with an enquiring mind, from the beginning, we can easily accept what she says as the adult who tells us this story.
The ability of Lloyd Jones to tell such a story of horror, despair, hope & resurgence through the eyes of a young girl is clever, amazing & totally believable.
Lloyd Jones chooses his isolated setting & a variety of interesting & sometimes complex characters, to explore a variety of themes such as puberty & adolescence, loyalties, family, varying & developing perspectives, &, of course, the possible influence & interpretation of Literature on our lives.
The latter is perhaps best illustrated when the characters are not always able to tell the difference between fact & fiction.
For example, by introducing Pip as Mr. Pip, some do believe that he is a real person & this has a huge effect on what happens later in the story.
The loyalty theme is explored through Matilda; should her loyalty be to her mother, the Islanders or Mr. Watts? Can she be loyal to all three?
But, because of the book being mostly about Mr. Pip based on Dickens' "Great Expectations," perhaps the most important theme is about perspectives, how we can be changed according to situations & influences, & growing up, & in this case, through literature.
We certainly see Matilda change through living in the narrow confines of the Island; through Mr. Watts, through the backcloth of war & terror & through the story of Mr Pip.
The characters are well chosen to develop & illustrate the themes. Some change; some don't! The changes in Matilda are obvious as she tells us the story whereas Dolores, her mother, changes very little; she is a Godfearing traditionalist basing her life on the Bible which she knows so well & tries to live her life by its criteria.
She is narrow, fearing change; she can't cope with this character, Mr. Pip, & she shows a natural mother's jealousy over Mr. Watts when she feels that her daughter is being more influenced by him than by her.
By the end of the story, we know that Mr. Watts had changed in many ways over the years before his demise & could be very manipulative, shown in the story of "Great Expectation," but he did become an influential father figure to the whole village in a time of great need & we love the way, like any good teacher, he stimulated their imaginations, broadened their horizons, & took their minds off the horror of their situation, allowing them to escape from the fear & horror of their surroundings, through "Great Expectations."
adds a little smile to this mostly dark story, with his red nose,
pulling his wife along on a trolley; what fun the village children must
have had at such a sight!
It is through the story of Mr. Pip that we see most changes taking place. We see the children becoming stimulated & exhilarated by Mr. Watts' account of what happens to Pip. To the children, it is a Cinderella story, especially as Mr. Watts lays such store by Pip becoming a "Gentleman," but, of course, we know that that the nuances of the story are what makes it such a clever read.
Matilda is bright enough to pick up on these nuances such as Pip's snobbery etc. It's ironic that the story helps the children to escape yet, ultimately, it is the story which is responsible for the shocking deaths of Dolores & Mr. Watts.
It would be good to meet Matilda. She's a very interesting character with guts. After her experiences on the Island, it would be easy for her to go to pieces, to give up, but no! She picks up a new life with her father, finds out more about Mr. Watts who has had such an influence on her at a crucial time in her life & who has made such an impression on her through Pip, that, she studies Literature at University & eventually comes to England, to the Marshes where the fictional Pip was brought up. Her comments here are very interesting indeed.
Why do you think Mr Watts wears a red nose and pulls his wife in a cart?
What similarities in the story of Great Expectations and Mr Pip can you find?
Can literature change lives?
What do you think Charles Dickens would make of this take on Mr Pip and his famous novel Great Expectations?
Our bookclub gave this an amazing 9/10 and Mr Pip was voted one of our best books of the year.
The story is simple to read but the hidden meanings are complex and interesting. We spent some of our meeting trying to tease out some of the entendres and double meanings.
The story itself is so unique and like nothing that we had read before.
This one makes for a good discussion to get under the skin of this book.
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