Title: Mister Pip
Author: Llyod Jones
Cover: ★★★★ I find the cover to be nice enough. It does connect to the novel, which is always good. 🙂
Before reading this novel, I suggest you do a little bit of research about Papua New Guinea, and Bougainville Island, which is part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville . I am saying this because if you don’t know the context, you might come to the wrong conclusion.
While the novel is about a 12 year old girl, the themes are more suitable for adults, or at least a person with a more mature mind. Matilda, the main character, is one of the many native children living on the island. All people on the island are black, with one exception: Mr.Tom Watts, or Pop-Eye. Mr.Watts is married to a local women that he met in New Zealand. Matilda, and the rest of the locals, live during harsh times. There is a civil war going on in Papua New Guinea. The “redskins” are the ethnic group of Papua New Guinea, while the “rebels” are natives of the Bougainville Island. These two ethic groups are different, and do not get along. I want to mention that the natives of Bouganiville do indeed call the Papua New Guinea’s natives “redskins”. It is not something the author came up with. I also do not think it is a name given out of hate, rather a way of naming a group of people that is different from the one living on the island. The rebels want Bouganinville to become independent of Papua New Guinea; on the other hand, Papua New Guinea wants to keep it under their authority because Bougainville is rich in minerals, especially copper and gold.
This is a story of Matilda, that is a witness to many atrocities: rape, chopping up people into pieces, violence, and finally some peace. Mr.Watts is a great help to Matilda, because he starts teaching the kids on the island. He reads them Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The read a chapter per day, and talk about the story. Mr.Watts invited the parents to teach the kids something they know, even if is just something little. Great Expectations becomes a parallel world for Matilda, and the kids. They use it to escape the hard times they had to live in. Matilda’s mother does not agree with Mr.Watts choice of novel. Dolores does not understand why her daughter would choose an imaginary character over her relatives. In a way, Dolores tries to protect Matilda from the “white world”, and to teach her about her heritage, especially since Bougainville’s customs and traditions are in danger of extinction. There is also a theme about colonialism. It is not directly addressed, but it is there.
The novel reads like a memoir. While the main character is a child, the voice is the one of an adult, and the story is told using past tense. At the very end of the novel, we read that Matilda decides to write her own story, using her own voice. She tells what happens on the island, what the “redskins” did to her mother, and other people on the island. Even after years of living abroad, Matilda is still hunted by the events that happened on her homeland. The narrative voice also reflects Matilda’s state of mind. It is cold, and detached.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.
I did like the novel, even though it is quite dark. I would’ve like to read more about Matilda’s life after she manages to leave Bougainville Island. The end seems to be a little bit rushed, and unfinished. Matilda ends her story by saying that she’ll try to go home; I would’ve love to read about her return home, and to see what happened with the island after she left, especially since she left during a civil war. I liked the fact that the story is based on real events. Yes, in the early 1990s, there was a civil war in Papua New Guinea, and people killed, raped, and chopped into pieces.
We don’t get to know much about Mr.Watts, even though he is a main character. There are a few details about him at the end of the novel, but not enough. He remains a mystery.
I do recommend this book, especially if you want to read something different, and find out more about the world we live in.