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Three Islands: One Mister Pip

The immortal character “Pip” from Charles Dickens’ most autobiographical work, Great Expectations is the clay from which New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones has molded his own stunning monument Mister Pip – a book that has captivated the heart of people everywhere and won him the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (2008) and finalist for the Man Booker Prize.

Jones’ fifth book titled, Mister Pip is a treatise to the power of stories to cross barriers of age, race, religion and gender. A good story can be told and re-told. It can even be re-conguered when it’s lost, and teach us to find a place in our hearts as well as that magical escape route to the imagination.

Set in the Solomon Islands off of Papa New Guinea in the ’80s, where civil conflict has broke out between three factions: the rebel male youths of the island who are sabotaging the copper mine operations and redskin soldiers brought in to take back control. The white Australian mining people have left the island and imposed a blockade cutting the villagers off from hope or escape. [This blockade really occurred and lasted for 10 years.] With their eligible men taken from them years earlier in search of paying work, the women, children and elders are left helpless to whichever side wishes to swoop into the village and take advantage of them. Their primitive state belies the period in which the book is set – and like its characters the reader is swept off in place and time into Dickens story of great expectation.

The main protagonist is a native girl called Matilda who lives with her mother in a hut among huts at the edge of the beach. The only remaining white man on the island is Mr. Watts who her mother says, “his tribe has forgotten him.” By default Mr. Watts becomes the village teacher. His only tool is his copy of Great Expectations and his power to transfix his pupils with its telling. Contrasted by the periodic wisdom of the village elders who drop into class to instill kernals of knowledge such as, how best to dispatch sea turtle or the value of the color blue, the reader comes to care for the welfare of the people as well as fear their uncertain future.

The three island homes I am referring to are of course Dickens’ England, Jones’ New Zealand, and Matilda’s Papa New Guinea. Together the writers and the characters they have inspired show us the power of love and literature to transform. Mister Pip will take its place on your library shelf as a favorite.

You Tube video with Lloyd Jones

One Comment

  1. Has anyone else read this book or other books by Lloyd Jones? I’d love to read your comments.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

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