Synopses & Reviews
In a novel that is at once intense, beautiful, and fablelike, Lloyd Jones weaves a transcendent story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform our lives.
On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens's classic Great Expectations.
So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, "A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe." Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.
"A promising though ultimately overwrought portrayal of the small rebellions and crises of disillusionment that constitute a young narrator's coming-of-age unfolds against an ominous backdrop of war in Jones's latest. When the conflict between the natives and the invading 'redskin' soldiers erupts on an unnamed tropical island in the early 1990s, 13-year-old Matilda Laimo and her mother, Dolores, are unified with the rest of their village in their efforts for survival. Amid the chaos, Mr. Watts, the only white local (he is married to a native), offers to fill in as the children's schoolteacher and teaches from Dickens's Great Expectations. The precocious Matilda, who forms a strong attachment to the novel's hero, Pip, uses the teachings as escapism, which rankles Dolores, who considers her daughter's fixation blasphemous. With a mixture of thrill and unease, Matilda discovers independent thought, and Jones captures the intricate, emotionally loaded evolution of the mother-daughter relationship. Jones (The Book of Fame; Biografi) presents a carefully laid groundwork in the tense interactions between Matilda, Dolores and Mr. Watts, but the extreme violence toward the end of the novel doesn't quite work. Jones's prose is faultless, however, and the story is innovative enough to overcome the misplayed tragedy. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n assured tribute to the remarkable ability of literature to see us through adversities and tribulations. The Man Booker committee would be on the mark were it to give its prestigious award to Mister Pip." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"The accessible narrative, with its direct and graceful prose, belies the sophistication of its telling as Jones addresses head-on the effects of imperialism and the redemptive power of art." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A]ddresses ideas of place and homesickness with conviction...a worthwhile read." Library Journal
"Mister Pip is sheer magic, a story about stories and their power to transcend the limits of imagination and reside in the deep heart's core. Lloyd Jones is a brave and fierce writer, and he has given us Dickens brand new again." Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child
"[I]f 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, The New York Times
"A little Gauguin, a bit of Lord Jim, the novel's lyricism evokes great beauty and great pain." Kirkus Reviews
In a transcendent novel that is at once intense, beautiful, and fable-like, the author of Biograf celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform lives.
About the Author
Lloyd Jones was born in New Zealand in 1955. His previous novels and collections of stories include the award-winning The Book of Fame
, a New York Times
Notable Book; Choo Woo
; Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance
; and Paint Your Wife
. Lloyd Jones lives in Wellington.
Jones's Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance will be available in the U.S. for the first time on August 26, 2008.
Reading Group Guide
1. Is it important that Mr. Watts is the last white man on the island? Why?
2. Why does Matilda write Pips name in the sand alongside the names of her relatives? Why does this upset her mother? How does this contribute to Doloress feelings about Mr. Wattss instruction of her daughter? Are these feelings understandable?
3. Why do you think Mr. Watts pulled his wife in the cart? Why did he wear the red clown nose? What meaning did that have for them?
4. What is the message Matildas mother is trying to express to the children with the story of her mothers braids? How is this related to the issue of Mr. Wattss faith in God?
5. What did you think of the lessons that the mothers of the children bring to the classroom? If you were the parent of a child in Matildas class, what lesson would you teach the children? What might your mother have taught the class?
6. Who is Dolores warning the children about when she tells them the story about the devil lady and the church money? How does this story justify her actions regarding the book and the redskins? Do you agree with Doloress refusal to bring forth the book? With Matildas?
7. Where do you think Gilberts father takes Sam? How do you know? In your opinion, was it necessary that he do so?
8. Why does the corned beef in Mr. Wattss house “represent a broad hope” for Matilda? Discuss Mr. Wattss reaction to Matildas fragment. Do you believe that Grace was alive when Matilda arrived?
9. Discuss how the characters in this story struggle to reconcile the concepts of race and identity. Does it seem to dictate their interaction with each other? How does it influence their concepts of self? What moments, especially, helped reveal this to you?
10. What is the meaning of the story of the Queen of Sheba? Why does Mr. Watts bring it up? Why is it significant that Dolores is familiar with that story?
11. Why does Dolores step forward to declare herself “Gods witness” to the murder of Mr. Watts? Were you surprised that she did? Why does she insist that Matilda remain silent?
12. Do you think Matilda was able to return home? How would that outcome affect your reading of both novels?
13. Discuss your memorable experiences of being read to as a child. What book made the greatest impact on your life? Did any book come to you at precisely the right time, the way Great Expectations was brought to Matilda?
14. On Great Expectations and Mister Pip. Are both Mister Pip and Great Expectations universal coming-of-age tales? How did you react to the blending of these two distinctly different settings and time periods?
15. The initial lines of Great Expectations are reflected several times in this novel. Compare them to the opening lines of Mister Pip. What connections do these first sentences draw between the themes of both novels?
16. In what way are the narrative voices of Mister Pip and Great Expectations the same? How are they different? What shifts do you notice in the storytelling after Matilda leaves the island? How did this impact your reading?
17. How is Doloress treatment of Matilda similar to Estellas treatment of Pip in Great Expectations? How does this relationship help Matilda understand Pips attachment to Estella? Is it necessary that this attachment be severed before Pip/Matilda can grow individually?
18. Why do you think Mr. Watts omitted the characters of Orlick and Compeyson from his telling of Great Expectations? What additional meaning might the children have gleaned from the story if these characters and their storylines, such as Compeysons jilting of Miss Havisham, had been included?
19. What is signified by the changing of ones name, both in Great Expectations and Mister Pip? Why does Matilda not change her name?
20. In what ways does Great Expectations help Matilda cope with her reality and prepare her for the future? How does it help Mr. Watts deal with his past? What makes Great Expectations the ideal Dickens choice for this purpose?
Celebrating the timeless power of storytelling, Mister Pip unites the stirring tale of a young girls quest for hope with a marvelous tribute to a Charles Dickens classic. Thirteen-year-old Matilda is coming of age on a Pacific island that has been torn apart by war. Almost everyone, including her father, has left to find work or escape the danger. Among those few who remain is the eccentric and mysterious Mr. Watts, the islands sole remaining white man, who takes on the role of teacher and begins to read Great Expectations aloud to students. For Matilda and her classmates, the story offers an escape from their brutal reality, while instilling in them the strength to endure in a place where nothing is certain, not even their survival. Mister Pip celebrates individual strength, the ability of humanity to transform itself through narrative, and powerful friendships that cross cultural lines. In this gripping and imaginative novel, Lloyd Jones gives us a unique way to explore issues of faith, family, loyalty, identity, and, ultimately, the transcendence of literature.