Mister Pip (Review)


Mister Pip
Lloyd Jones, 2006
272 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October 2009

Pop Eye is the village freak show. He sports a clown's nose and pulls his large, regal wife around with a rope tied to the end of a wooden trolly. Such a sight.

Civil war has erupted on this unnamed South Pacific Island. And when the entire white popularion flees to avoid bloodshed, the island is left without teachers. So village leaders turn to the single white man left who would have the background to educate their children—Pop Eye.

When the children find this strange man standing in front of them—in a white linen suit, no clown nose, and calling himself Mr. Watts—they're stunned and curious.

I am no teacher,” he tells them, but I will do my best. That's my promise to you children. I believe, with your parents' help, we can make a difference to our lives." Teacher or not, it turns out Mr. Watts has both humility and a natural gift for imparting infomation.

Parents are invited into the classroom in to share their stock of village lore—everything from how to kill an octopus to the importance of the color blue. But the best part of every day is Mr. Watts's reading from Dickens's Great Expectations. Dickens's book, about young Pip's struggle to attain maturity and self-knowledge, entrances the children—despite the book's setting in a distant time and land. Soon, they begin to see parallels in their own lives.

Author Lloyd has chosen the voice of a 13-year old island girl, now mature, to tell his story. Inevitably, the civil war reaches the little village, with the horror and tragedy that every war brings. Matilda, our narrator, bears witness to unspeakable brutality. But keeping Dickens's characters in her thoughts, she finds her way to safety—and years later unwraps, at least partly, the mystery that is Mr. Watts.

The book is both tragic and glorious. Matilda, the villagers, and Mr. Watts are as engaging a fictional ensemble as any you will ever come across.

See our Reading Group Guide for Mister Pip.

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