Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones


"You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames."

I love this quote from Mister Pip, which takes it's title from the main character of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The story unfolds slowly as the reader begins to piece together what's happening. The author doesn't feel it necessary to explain things to the reader, which is quite nice. I often lose interest in a book when an author spends the better part of a book just laying the groundwork for the story. The book is set on an island off the coast of New Zealand, which is caught in the middle of some type of civil war or uprising for control of the copper mines. When the trouble begins, all of the island's white inhabitants flee, except for Mr. Watts. He is married to a black woman who grew up on the island, and for whatever reason they stay. The couple is very aloof and remains somewhat of a mystery to the rest of the island population. The only time the couple is seen is when they appear on the beach with Mr. Watts pulling his wife on a trolley as if they are in a parade. They act as if there is no one else in the world, and they don't speak to each other or anyone else. To make the scene even more strange, sometimes Mr. Watts will wear a red clown's nose during these processions. The children, of course think they are crazy and have nicknamed him Popeye because of his appearance.

Out of the blue, Mr. Watts announces that he will reopen the island school for the children in the absence of their teacher. He explains up front that he's not an educator by trade, but that he'll do his best to stimulate the children's minds. His main way of doing this is by reading Great Expectations aloud to the children. In the midst of all the turmoil of their young lives, this gives them an opportunity to escape to another world, at least for a short time each day. Matilda is especially fascinated by this foreign world. She doesn't always understand what she hears, but she comes to care deeply about Pip. It's obvious to her that this story has a special meaning for Mr. Watts. We don't find out until much later the significance of the book and the other questions regarding Mr. Watts and his wife, such as the "parades" and why they didn't leave when they had the opportunity -- before the fighting comes all too close to the village.



6 comments:

Andi said...

I have this one on the stacks, and I hope to read it soon since I just read Great Expectations in January. Sounds like a great book. You've re-intrigued me!

Dorothy W. said...

This book sounds quite good! I like that quotation, although I find I rarely read that way -- I find it hard to lose myself in a book, even though I'm enjoying it. But that's just me ...

Lisa said...

Andi, the fact that I'd just read Great Expectations is one of the reasons that I really liked the book. I love it when there are references to books that I've actually read in other books. Most of the time, it seems that I haven't read the books alluded to, which is a little frustrating. It's like an inside joke that you're not a part of.

Lisa said...

Dorothy, I really did like this book. I don't often lose myself in a book to that degree, either. I become distracted by everything around me too easily even when I'm reading a book that I absolutely love.

litlove said...

Just to add to the list of people reading/having read Great Expectations, I'm hoping to pick this up once I've finished Dickens's novel. It sounds great! And I'm really keen to see how the literary education thing is worked out.

Lisa said...

litlove, this was a good book to read having just read Great Expectations. It's interesting to see the impact that the reading of the book has on the children during such a difficult time in their lives. It allows them an escape at least for a while.