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Monday, June 1, 2009

Mister Pip

Mr. Pip
by Lloyd Jones
audio book: 7.5 hours


*** 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:
If you've reviewed it as well I'm happy to add your link here.

12 comments:

Ti said...

I agree, I am guessing the book version would have packed a bit more punch. It took me weeks to work through all of the themes after I read the book with my group.

Thanks for the shout-out.

Ms Ulat Buku said...

This is on my TBR pile... Must read this! Thanks for the review!

Lezlie said...

I *did* really love this book! It seems so simple at first, then all of a sudden it becomes so much larger than life. And I *still* haven't read Great Expectations. Dang it. :-)

Lezlie

chartroose said...

Thanks for the plug, Heather, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I think it's my favorite novel of 2009 (so far).

violetcrush said...

This really sounds good. I guess I'll have to read Great Expectations (which I already have in my TBR) first to enjoy this more.

Plays with Needles said...

I too read and thought this was a great book. So thoughtful -- it's very interesting to me to see what life rafts people cling to...what people and events come to the forefront...when the situation you are in becomes so bleak...

I noticed that you mentioned Little Bee also dealt with Great Expectations...I don't know, is it just me? or two books that you really enjoyed who feature Great Expectations? Within the same month?? Looks like somewhere someone wants you to read Mr. Dickens' work...I'm just sayin'...

I think I'll throw it on the pile for this Summer because I "missed" it when I read Mr. Pip...

Thanks for a nice lunch yesterday. I hope you weren't late back to work. And happy first part-time day!

bermudaonion said...

Between your review and Chartroose's review, I'm convinced that I need to read this book.

Heather J. said...

Ti - I wish I had read this with my club - there is so much to talk about.

Ms. Ulat Buku - Glad it caught your attention!

Lezlie - Exactly. Things are going along normally and then BAM - reality hits. That's when I really began to appreciate the book.

chartroose - I didn't enjoy it quite as much as you did, but it was a great book - and you did an GREAT review.

violetcrush - I'm sure that reading GE wouldn't hurt, but not reading won't detract from your enjoyment of Mr. Pip either.

Plays With Needles - I thought of that, but I'm really fighting it. Although I love many other Dickens books I'm really not into this particular story. But lunch was great and I wasn't late (or at least, no one noticed!) - we'll have to do it again sometime. ;)

bermudaonion - I hope that between the two of us, we convinced you to try it out.

Dreamybee said...

I too thought this book took place way in the past; I was shocked when I finally realized that it took place in the 1990s. My review is here-clearly I missed a lot of details that everyone else seemed to pick up on!

http://subliminalintervention.blogspot.com/2008/08/what-im-reading-now-august-15th-edition.html

Heather J. said...

dreamybee - thanks for the link, I added it to my recap. :)

Care said...

I just finished this book and am now exploring all the reviews in blogland. WOW - Char's review is excellent! and yours is, too! and I can't wait to rush over to Ti's and find out about more themes. I hadn't read Great Expectations (and am still not sure if I ever will) but did see the Ethan Hawke Gwyneth Paltrow movie - and it was helpful but not necessary. BUT this book really helps understand GE - if that makes sense. A lovely hearwrenching book - I loved Mister Pip!

Heather J. said...

Care - Heartwrenching is the perfect word for this. It really snuck up on me, that's for sure. SO GLAD you enjoyed it though!

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