A powerful book told by a good storyteller can enchant young minds and transport them to other worlds, in the process firing their imaginations and filling their minds. Such is the case in the somewhat melancholy novel Mister Pip, by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones. It is a fine tale about a young Solomons Island (probably Bougainville) girl named Matilda, who is swept away as a middle schooler by the reading by her white teacher Mr. Watts of Dickens's Great Expectations. The story is set during the rebellion on the island, in which unspeakable horrors are inflicted on the locals, the cruelty of which is repeatedly carried out against Matilda's village. Oddly enough the soldiers appear to be Australian aborigines, ruthlessly subjugating a darker population. As Matilda (and in fact the rest of the class) becomes more engrossed in the story, Watts faces increased opposition from Christian villagers, headed by Matilda's mother. Before he takes over the teaching position (as all whites and others have fled before a blockade), Watts was little more than an oddity, somewhat despised there (as he had been in New Zealand) for having had an affair with a young island woman, though the love seems deep for him as he deals with his depressed love (which I will not spoil the reasons for). Matilda has a tough life, but she really connects with Dickens. The book deals with the clash of cultures, the cruelty of imperialism, the senselessness of war, the conflicts between mother and child, teacher and parent,rebels and soldiers.
I loved several passages in the book. "I already knew that words could take you into a new world, but I didn't know that on the strength of one word spoken for my ears only I would find myself in a room that no one else knew about." Later the little girl is told: "But you know, Matilda, you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is aflame." Yep, those are the tomes I wish to find.
Mister Pip is not quite that caliber, but it was a nice story and it has got me interested in this author. It is somewhat sad, and will anger readers, and it certainly got me interesting in finding out more about this rebellion that was not so long ago. I recommend it.