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Tuesday 27 May 2008

Mister Pip

by Lloyd Jones

The setting is a primitive community on a South Sea island which fears being caught in the conflict between a ruthless militaristic government and rebel guerillas. The community deals with the lack of any educational provision by inviting the community’s only white man – one of the principal, beautifully drawn characters – to stand in as teacher. The narrator is Matilda, a 15-year old girl who is one of his pupils. His main standby is to read to them from a battered copy of his favourite book, Dickens’ Great Expectations. While feeding Matilda’s hungry imagination, this ultimately has unthought of consequences.

I thought the strengths of the book lay in the rich evocation of the setting, and the convincing development of the very believable characters, some of whom show unexpected depths when faced with extreme – not to say horrific – moral situations. You may feel that Matilda displays more insight than you might expect from her age and backround; but this is of course written from the standpoint of her adult self, who can be allowed, I feel, a little licence here. It did nevertheless seem to me that the author’s very sure touch faltered a little towards the end, where there is a tendency to over-explain, to reveal the bare bones of every moral dilemma. It is the ambiguities in the story which have been one of its great strengths to this point, and readers should be credited with the ability to face these unaided.

However, Mister Pip passes the most important test: I read it almost in a sitting, and felt unable to put it down.

reviewed by Christopher Bazalgette

1 comment:

Karen said...

This is on my TBR list, and I'm looking forward to it!