Wednesday 9 January 2013

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

I have a confession to make.  I am not a fan of Dickens.  Yes, I hear all the sharp intakes of breath.  How can I admit to such heresy?  Easy, I say.  I have tried and tried to read several of his novels and I have simply found them incomprehensible.  Bleak House and Oliver Twist top the list of books I  have failed to finish despite repeated attempts.  I am well aware that this means some of you may never trust another book review I write.  I am willing to take this risk.  I doubt my life will be ruined any more than it already is.

It does mean, however, that I may  have enjoyed this novel more if I had read and committed to memory the tome, Great Expectations.  It would appear that everyone else has.  Mister Pip was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and was the runner-up for the Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year 2008.  Not sure what Oprah thought of it but she probably loved it.

Thankfully, I don't put too much stock in these literary prizes, that is until I win one.  I started reading this novel several times but it always made its way back into my pile to "to-read" as pile when I failed to make it beyond the first 30 pages or so.

The novel is set on a fictional but all too familiar tropical island beseiged by the horrors of an inexplicable civil war.  The native inhabitants of the island check every box on a list of cliches.  Mr. Watts is the only white inhabitant and has decided, I presume, that this qualifies him to be the teacher.  Regrettably, the only text book available is a copy of Great Expectations, which does at some point go missing entirely. His star pupil is a young, impressionable but questionably bright girl named Matilda.

I found the story mildly entertaining and Jones' prose is, at times, beautiful, although poetic might be stretching it a bit.   The savagery and randomness of the civil war is told with the same lyrical tone as the uplifting and heartwarming rhthym as Matilda's quest for knowledge and the truth.  I was, and will continue to be, dismayed by Mr Watt's cotinued presence on the island.

I gave this novel 3 out of 5 stars, mostly for originality in plot and the use of language.  But there is a pile of books unread next to my bed and I wish I had chosen something else.

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