Suspension of Disbelief: Mister Pip
Suspension of Disbelief is a weekly feature, in which we review movies, books, TV shows, and other popular culture for the skeptical teen.
Book Title: Mister Pip
Author: Lloyd Jones
Mister Pip is set on the Pacific Island of Bougainville during the blockade in the 1990s. Narrated by Matilda, a 13-year-old girl living on the island, the reader is taken through the events surrounding the blockade. Most notably the education the children on the island receive from the only white man left in the village, Mr. Watts. Mr. Watts makes do with his limited resources by reading the children Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. His students quickly become enthralled, and use the adventures of Pip to escape from their own lives as they become increasingly trapped by the warring forces.
This is a story about stories and I loved it for that (even if it may have been a bit obvious). The tale revolved around the narrative of Great Expectations with Matilda’s life roughly mirroring Pip’s. Pip is a friend to the village children, they escape to his world of Victorian England, and they see their lives paralleled in his. More than that, the lives of the villagers become so closely intertwined with Pip’s that it leads to devastating consequences when both the ‘rambos’ and the ‘redskins’ come to mistake Pip for a real person.
One of the things I really admired about this story was the characterisation– on multiple levels. I imagine there are plenty of ways to go wrong when a white male takes on the voice of a 13-year-old black girl, but I absolutely adored (and believed in!) Matilda as a narrator. Other characters, such as Matilda’s mother, the villagers and, most importantly, Mr. Watts tell their stories in their own unique ways. Their voices are all compelling, filled with rich language and dripping with character. However, the darker side to this is Matilda’s unembellished narration of some of the uglier happenings on the island, and we watch on with her in horror.
It would be impossible to overlook this as a moral tale, as the book itself says: “Stories have a job to do, they can’t just lie around like lazybone dogs. They have to teach you something.” Matilda learns much from Great Expectations, and so we learn much from her. The themes in this story are powerful and sincere.
Mister Pip was completely un-putdownable. Insightful, endearing, and in turn completely shocking, I’d highly recommend it.
Note: In writing this review I discovered that the film adaptation of this book is in the post-production process, set for release in 2012. The film will be directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), and will star Hugh Laurie(!) as Mr. Watts.