In Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, fourteen year old Matilda lives on an island wrought with political unrest. Years before, the 'redskin' soldiers came, the young men of the village ran into the hills to become rebels and all the white people left. All except one- Mr Watts, 'Pop Eye' who pulls his wife along in a trolley in some sort of bizarre tradition only they understand. He's an object of fascination to the local children.
Mr Watts decides to open the school for the remaining children. Since there are no books, he uses Mr Dickens' Great Expectations as a teaching tool. Immediately, Matilda is drawn to Pip. She thinks of him as a friend, one who she can tell anything to even though he can't talk back. Her mother, however, is suspicious of her new found knowledge. How will it help her in her every day life? Tension develops between Mr Watts and Matilda's pious mother when she learns he's an atheist. Matilda finds her loyalties divided between them both.
Matilda's village soon has bigger problems when the red skins turn their attention to them. Things turn dangerous when they discover that a Mister Pip is hiding somewhere in the village. He must be a rebel or why would the villagers be so tight lipped about him?
This is a beautifully written novel. It's by no means a happy novel. A shocking event happens so suddenly that it completely caught me off guard. Yet things like this happen all over the world everyday. I found the idea of a single book changing the life of a young person appealing to my book loving self. It opened up a whole new world for Matilda. Not only is the story compelling, the characters are as well. Mr Watts is a complicated man with many secrets. Matilda's mother is larger than life. When she enters a room, people take notice. Matilda's relationship with her is typical of teenagers. While she still needs her, she pushes her away. It makes what happens even more heartbreaking.
I'd recommend it to everyone.
Now for some Weekly Geeks Q&A
Andi and Andi want to know if Mister Pip is worth reading: Definitely! Even if you find it slow at the start it will pick up. I read it in 2 days.
Katrina: The school teacher creates a divide between the children and the parents, do you feel that this divide is necessary? Also how do you feel about the ending? I don't think he set out to cause a divide. I think it's just a natural result of the children's learning. They now have knowledge their parents' don't have. I was fairly satisfied with the ending. I knew there was more to Mr Watts' story than he was telling. And I was glad that at least someone survived that whole ordeal.
A couple from Dewey: How do you feel about the idea that one could educate children just drawing from one text? Some homeschooled children are educated in a very similar way, using the Bible as a jumping off point for math, history, everything. Do you think the author was drawing comparisons? I hadn't thought of it that way. I'm not sure if he is drawing comparisons, although he could. Mr Watts had other books. He just seemed to love that book. I'm sure there is a lot to be learned from one book, especially one that's about a totally different time and place from our own. We're spoiled where we can read a book and then move on to the next one. The children didn't have that option.
Maree: I love Mister Pip, but hate Great Expectations. If you've read Great Expectations, did Mister Pip change your opinion of it, or make you want to read it again? I have read Great Expectations a couple of times. I think I'll look at it in a different way if I ever read it again.
Joy Renee: How was Point-of-View handled? The book is told through the point of view of Matilda. She's looking back on a few months in her fourteenth year. How was language used to set tone and mood? It was obvious to me that this was a very educated person telling a story of a turbulent time in her life where she was quite young and not as educated. How was metaphor used? Were associations fresh or did they tend toward cliche? Did they add to your understanding of the theme? Colour was a big metaphor: black and white, the redskins, the colour blue. Different people's ideas on colour were very important to each character. Mr Watts is very aware of his whiteness as it sets him apart from everyone else and is also burdened with it it as was the white people who brought the redskins to the island. I think he suffers for it emotionally.