In a novel that is at once intense, beautiful, and fablelike, Lloyd Jones weaves a transcendent story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform our lives.
On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.
So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe.” Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.
I have a confession to make - I have never read Great Expectations. I know, it's terrible, but the truth is, I'm not very good at classics. I only read Wuthering Heights after I read I Am the Messenger.I obviously need a catalyst of some type to read classics. So, after reading Mr Pip I have put Great Expectations on hold at the library. It must be popular, I'm number 3 on the list!
So onto Mr Pip. After all the whites are evacuated from, or leave the island village, Mr Watts is the only white left. He starts to teach the children, but the only book he has is Great Expectations. Matilda not only enjoys the story, she is transport to Pip's world. He is more real to her than her mother's devil, something that causes tension between Mr Watts and Matilda's mother.
I'm finding it really hard to express what I feel about this book. I enjoyed it, I think over the next few days, things about it will occur to me and give me that "ahhh" moment. The island they are talking about is near or part of Papua New Guinea and I need to go and read some of their recent history to place the book properly for me. It was an easy read with much to think about. I really enjoyed the lack of over embellishment about events in the book. It was like it had been pared back to its bare bones, to give the reader a feeling for the starkness and reality of life in the village at that time. I felt for Matilda, torn between her mother and Mr Watts.
At one point in the story, the book is destroyed and Mr Watts and the children set about "retrieving" the story. Each day as they come to class, Mr Watts asks the children what they have remembered about the book and he notes each retrieval down in a book, noting who has retrieved it and where in the story it belongs. I love this idea, the idea that as long as we can remember a book and why it touched us, it will never be lost.