three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Lloyd Jones
user_rating: 
0

A-Mister PipIn the early 1990s, civil war rages on a tropical island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Amid encroaching violence, the village’s only white man, Mr. Watts ("Pop Eye"), an eccentric New Zealander married to a local woman, replaces the departed teacher and starts to read Great Expectations to his students. "We could escape to another place," says Matilda, the adolescent narrator who finds refuge in Pip and his Victorian England. As the children’s imaginations expand and inspire the rest of the villagers to share their own tales, violence draws all too near when soldiers find the name "Pip" written in the sand and accuse Mr. Watts of being a rebel leader.
Dial. 256 pages. $20. ISBN: 0385341067

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Three-fourths of the way through Jones’ novel, we are treated to a gorgeous amalgamation of storytelling: Fiction is layered on fiction as our now-grown narrator Matilda retells Watts’ version of Pip’s life, deftly interweaving Dickens’ story (sometimes verbatim) with village mythology and Watts’ own personal autobiography. … Both Matilda and Watts will take their rightful places, beside Pip, in my canon of fictional friends." Haley Edwards

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"The war is a perpetual noise in the background in this uplifting tale about the power of literature, of story. … Mister Pip is an assured tribute to the remarkable ability of literature to see us through adversities and tribulations." Vikram Johri

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Jones packs a lot into his slim novel: the power of imagination, race, the importance of place versus the outside world. And although the novel is not a complete success … it rewards the reader with originality, humor and humanity." Nancy Connors

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"So if Mister Pip is preachy—and it is—it’s also a book with worthwhile thoughts to impart. Mr. Jones’s ability to translate these thoughts into the gentle, tropical, roundabout idiom of his setting … turns out to be genuinely affecting." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones’s spare, haunting fable explores the power and limitations of art as Matilda chronicles 21 increasingly desperate months. … Jones’s tale would be bleak indeed were it not for the fact that in their ultimate moments Mr. Watts and her mother surmount their differences to affirm a shared moral code." Wendy Smith

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Is Jones just a teeny bit presumptuous in adopting the point of view of a 14-year-old girl from Papua New Guinea? … Does the theme—the white guy in the big house enlightening the natives, by introducing them to the ‘great literature’ Matilda calls ‘magic’—smell a little rancid?" Wendy Smith

USA Today 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The recounting of the horrendous murders … is told in the objective, stilted language of a world-weary journalist and doesn’t evoke the shock it should. … Jones makes an individual statement with a tragic but hopeful tale that reminds us of the power of books and reading to change worlds big and small." Carol Memmott

Critical Summary

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Overall Prize for Best Book and short-listed for the Booker Prize, Mister Pip delighted critics with its beautiful prose, compelling characters, and humane exploration of literature’s power. They especially lauded Matilda, who learns to identify with Pip and, in the process, heals the rift with her mother. Not every scene is heartrending, however: this story is framed by rape, murder, and civil war. Some reviewers noted a few whiffs of paternalism from the author, some awkward dialogue, too much foreshadowing, and an odd ending. But in its exploration of how literature can bring joy amid great suffering, Mister Pip is a heartwarming and worthwhile coming-of-age novel.