Saturday, September 1, 2007

Meeting Great Expectations

MISTER PIP Lloyd Jones

The words “deceptively simple” are such a reviewing cliché; yet, they’re the ones that irresistibly come to mind when reading New Zealander Lloyd Jones’ haunting Mister Pip.

The novel features the unshowy, first-person voice of Matilda, inhabitant of an island in Papua New Guinea, telling of the events that befell her and her fellow-islanders in the early 1990s. The island’s school has been shut because of a war between the “rebels” and the “redskins”, when Mr. Watt, the sole white inhabitant, decides to re-open it to teach the children the one thing he knows well: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. How the children, and their parents, react to this text, and what happens when the conflict overtakes them, make up the rest of the book.

This, then, is a testament to how reading can be transformative and to the power of an unleashed imagination. The winsome nature of the first part of the book gives way to several harrowing moments; what makes these all the more affecting is the quiet, non-dramatic manner in which Jones conveys the twists and turns. Indeed, parts of Mister Pip come across with the hushed power of a piece of folklore.

The ending, however, is a bit stretched: much of the book’s power wanes once Matilda leaves the island. Nevertheless, this is a fine novel, one that's graceful and poignant.

Worth your while? Certainly. If any of the above has made you think that this is a pretentious, literary work, it’s not. It’s, um, deceptively simple.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have picked this up from Landmark. Right now am reading Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn and you are correct, it's great. Thanks for that.