Monday, June 1, 2009
*** The Story ***
In the early 1990s on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, life is proceeding as usual for teenager Matilda. She lives in a small fishing village with her mother while her father works for a mining company over in Australia. He has been away for quite some time. Then there is a strike at the nearby mine and suddenly all the white people are being evacuated from the island. Government soldiers arrive to bring order while boys from the village join the rebel soldiers in the jungle and the entire island is surrounded by a blockade.
This is all background for Matilda though; as the reader you only learn about these things from the snippets of information she relates to you. The heart of the story is Mr. Watts, the last white person on the island. He volunteers to be a teacher for the village children in the absence of anyone more qualified. He's never taught before and the kids don't have books anyway. So he begins to read to them from his favorite book, GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens. As they read a bit more each day the children learn new words and their meanings, and they learn about a world very different from their own. But more importantly they learn new ways of thinking.
Then the government soldiers come to the village and things begin to change ...
*** Why I Read It (or listened to it) ***
I'd been hearing about this book for quite some time and it sounded interesting. However it wasn't until reading Chartroose's review that I realized it was set in the 1990s. WHAT?! Everything I'd read about this book led me to believe it took place during World War II. I'd never even HEARD of the blockade in the 1990s. So I had to get to this book quickly to fix the gaping hole in my knowledge of this situation.
*** About GREAT EXPECTATIONS ***
I have never read GREAT EXPECTATIONS although I did start reading it once when I was a kid. I loved most of Dickens's other books but I couldn't get into this one. The same happened when I tried to watch the movie version a few years ago. Did any of you have the same experience with it? Or maybe you can tell me why you loved it?
Regardless of my own opinion of Dickens's book I appreciated how and why it became so relevant to Matilda and the other children in the village. Lloyd Jones, through the character or Mr. Watts, found ways to make it a part of their lives. The characters see themselves in Pip and his friends and they use the stories in the book to make sense of their own lives. It was very, very well done. For me, Jones's skill in weaving together Pip's story and Matilda's life was the best part of the book.
*** My Thoughts ***
This is a very unique book. I don't think I've read anything that I can easily compare to it. Last week I wrote about GATES OF FIRE and how it was a "big" story that I sometimes felt lost in. Well MR. PIP is the exact opposite; it is a "small" story, very focused, very contained. But at the same time the ideas in it are big ones. Some of those ideas are ... the power of a good book to teach and transport ... the power of imagination ... and the importance of creating your own story.
I enjoyed getting to know the main characters in this story: Matilda, Mr. Watts, and Matilda's mother, Delores. There are other characters but they are not as fleshed out as these three; they appear and disappear as needed to progress the story but overall get little attention.
I'm not sure what I expected from the ending of this book but whatever it was, it was not what I got. The ending makes complete sense, don't get me wrong, but I was surprised all the same. And that is a good thing. In fact, when I reached the 6th cd (there are 7 total) I suddenly had to start paying much more attention to the story. If I had to write a review based on the story up to that point, I'd have said that it was good but not great. But writing it now, I can honestly say that this was a great book.
*** About the Audio Book ***
The version I listened to was narrated by Susan Lyons and she did an excellent job. However, there are some books that are simply better when you read them than they are when you listen to them and I think this might be one of those books. As I said above, this was a great book - but I think it could have been fantastic had I read it rather than listened to it. (Or maybe not ...)
*** Other Reviews ***
Here are a few other opinions on this book: