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Mister Pip

Mister Pip

3.5 32
by Lloyd Jones

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The Booker finalist and beloved novel that has taken the world by storm is now a major motion picture starring Hugh Laurie.

Thirteen-year-old Matilda lives on a copper-rich tropical island that has been shattered by war, from which the teachers have fled along with everyone else. Only one white man chooses to stay behind, the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much


The Booker finalist and beloved novel that has taken the world by storm is now a major motion picture starring Hugh Laurie.

Thirteen-year-old Matilda lives on a copper-rich tropical island that has been shattered by war, from which the teachers have fled along with everyone else. Only one white man chooses to stay behind, the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn. He sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and steps in to teach the children when there is no one else, and his only lessons consist of reading from his battered copy of Great Expectations, a book by his friend Mr. Dickens. First the children, and the entire village, are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip, their imaginations aflame with dreams of Dickens's London and the larger world. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination— it turns out— is a dangerous thing.

Editorial Reviews

Wendy Smith
New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones's spare, haunting fable explores the power and limitations of art as Matilda chronicles 21 increasingly desperate months. The villagers are trapped between the rebels and the soldiers just as inexorably as Matilda is caught between Mr. Watts and her fiercely religious mother.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
Mister Pip moves easily, even comically, into its Great Expectations fetish…if Mister Pip is preachy—and it is—it's also a book with worthwhile thoughts to impart. Mr. Jones's ability to translate these thoughts into the gentle, tropical, roundabout idiom of his setting…turns out to be genuinely affecting.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A promising though ultimately overwrought portrayal of the small rebellions and crises of disillusionment that constitute a young narrator's coming-of-age unfolds against an ominous backdrop of war in Jones's latest. When the conflict between the natives and the invading "redskin" soldiers erupts on an unnamed tropical island in the early 1990s, 13-year-old Matilda Laimo and her mother, Dolores, are unified with the rest of their village in their efforts for survival. Amid the chaos, Mr. Watts, the only white local (he is married to a native), offers to fill in as the children's schoolteacher and teaches from Dickens's Great Expectations. The precocious Matilda, who forms a strong attachment to the novel's hero, Pip, uses the teachings as escapism, which rankles Dolores, who considers her daughter's fixation blasphemous. With a mixture of thrill and unease, Matilda discovers independent thought, and Jones captures the intricate, emotionally loaded evolution of the mother-daughter relationship. Jones (The Book of Fame; Biografi) presents a carefully laid groundwork in the tense interactions between Matilda, Dolores and Mr. Watts, but the extreme violence toward the end of the novel doesn't quite work. Jones's prose is faultless, however, and the story is innovative enough to overcome the misplayed tragedy. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This eighth offering by New Zealander Jones (e.g., The Book of Fame) follows the early years of teenage protagonist Matilda on a remote island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Matilda's father takes a job with an Australian mining company, leaving Matilda and her mother behind on the island. Meanwhile, the village's lone white occupant appoints himself local schoolmaster, with his first lesson being a yearlong recitation of Dickens's Great Expectations, whose themes of estrangement and personal metamorphosis mirror Matilda's story. When rebellion ferments on the island, the central authorities impose a naval blockade, cutting off the inhabitants from the outside world. As government soldiers move against villages sympathetic to the rebels, Matilda must choose between remaining on the island or striking out for Australia in search of her father. Despite surprising plot twists and delightfully eccentric personalities, there are moments when Jones's characters speak with the author's voice rather than their own. In the end, however, this book addresses ideas of place and homesickness with conviction, making it a worthwhile read. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/07.]
—Chris Pusateri

Kirkus Reviews
Bringing Great Expectations to desperate children ravaged by revolution, an eccentric teacher becomes a martyr to literature and transforms the prospects of a strong-willed girl. He's actually "Mr. Watts." But so identified does he become with Dickens' wondrous coming-of-age narrative that he's known as "Mr. Pip." Jones (Paint Your Wife, 2004, etc.) juxtaposes this English exile, married to a native black woman and now the last white man on an unspecified Survivor-style island, with teenaged Matilda, his most eager student. He's a stopgap professor, really, just volunteering to instruct 20 kids, seven to 15 years old, who gather for shelter from the war between the "redskins" and the "rebels." A long-bearded Scheherazade in a white linen suit, Watts draws out the telling of Dickens' classic to the children and soon we have the age-old tale: story as balm, spell, savior. He also invites the island mothers in for show ‘n' tell: chances to share their wisdom. They offer fishing tips; rhapsodies of the sea; and one tells of a woman who "once turned a white man into marmalade and spread him onto her toast." That tale spinner is Matilda's mother, and she becomes Watts's rival, her pidgin Bible contrasting his Victorian tale; she is imperiled nature; he's threatening culture. He reminisces about "the smell of fresh-mown grass and lawnmower oil"; she fears the capture of her daughter's soul. And yet in time, for Matilda's sake, the pair negotiate a tremulous peace-one soon savaged by murder, as the redskins descend. As the revolution intensifies, the schoolhouse burns, along with Great Expectations. And Watts's last injunction to his students is that they rebuild the story orally, for themselves,piece by piece. A little Gauguin, a bit of Lord Jim, the novel's lyricism evokes great beauty and great pain. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management
From the Publisher
“[Mister Pip] has all the spell-binding charm of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and then some. . . . Mister Pip is an achingly beautiful story.”
—The Vancouver Sun

“An intelligent novel that says as much about the power of reading as it does about bloodshed and loss.”
—New Statesman

“By the time Mr. Watts reached the end of chapter one I felt like I had been spoken to by this boy Pip. . . . I had found a new friend. The surprising thing is where I’d found him—not up a tree or sulking in the shade, or splashing around in one of the hill streams, but in a book. No one had told us kids to look there for a friend. Or that you could slip inside the skin of another.”
—The Spectator

“A novel about reading and writing and their impact on people’s lives that can be read with pleasure by someone who has never known the power of Charles Dickens, or Great Expectations, and still make them hunger for more. . . . Its fable-like quality is spellbinding; the depth of its insights compelling.”
—Canberra Times

“A poignant and impressive work which can take its place alongside the classical novels of adolescence.”
—The Times Literary Supplement

"Mister Pip is a rare, original and truly beautiful novel. It reminds us that every act of reading and telling is a transformation, and that stories, even painful ones, may carry possibilities of redemption. An unforgettable novel, moving and deeply compelling."
—Gail Jones, author of Sixty Lights

"Mister Pip is sheer magic, a story about stories and their power to transcend the limits of imagination and reside in the deep heart's core. Lloyd Jones is a brave and fierce writer, and he has given us Dickens brand new again."
—Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child

“As compelling as a fairytale–beautiful, shocking and profound.”
–Helen Garner, author of Monkey Grip

‘It’s clear from the first page that this is prize-winning stuff… Being a truthful writer, Jones sees nothing – neither his heroes nor his villains in black and white. His is a bold inquiry into the way that we construct and repair our communities, and ourselves, with stories old and new’
– The Times

‘Cleverly encapsulating what it is to be an orphan, an immigrant or a person dispossessed of a regular beat of life, this extraordinary story…‘
– Good Housekeeping

‘Mister Pip is a poignant and impressive work which can take its place alongside the classical novels of adolescence'
– The Times Literary Supplement

‘A mesmerising story which shows how books can change lives in utterly surprising ways’
– Western Daily Press

‘Exotic locations add a dreamy location to … Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones … Jones’ lyrical novel centres around a group of children in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, during the civil war in the Nineties’
– Charlotte Sinclair, Vogue

‘Morally subtle, Mister Pip has none of arid cleverness that often mars novels about books, making it a worthy winner of this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize’
– Jonathan Beckman, Daily Mail

‘An intelligent novel that says as much about the power of reading as it does about bloodshed and loss’
– Anthony Byrt, New Statesman

‘A major word-of-mouth bestseller’
– Sue Baker, Publishing News
“Much is being made of Mister Pip in the southern hemisphere, and with good reason: it is an intelligent novel that says as much about the power of reading as it does about bloodshed and loss.”
–New Statesman

Product Details

Perfection Learning Corporation
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 5.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

EVERYONE CALLED HIM POP EYE. EVEN IN those days, when I was a skinny thirteen-year-old, I thought he probably knew about his nickname but didn't care. His eyes were too interested in what lay up ahead to notice us barefoot kids.

He looked like someone who had seen or known great suffering and hadn't been able to forget it. His large eyes in his large head stuck out further than anyone else's—like they wanted to leave the surface of his face. They made you think of someone who can't get out of the house quickly enough.

Pop Eye wore the same white linen suit every day. His trousers snagged on his bony knees in the sloppy heat. Some days he wore a clown's nose. His nose was already big. He didn't need that red lightbulb. But for reasons we couldn't think of he wore the red nose on certain days—which may have meant something to him. We never saw him smile. And on those days he wore the clown's nose you found yourself looking away because you never saw such sadness.

He pulled a piece of rope attached to a trolley on which Mrs. Pop Eye stood. She looked like an ice queen. Nearly every woman on our island had crinkled hair, but Grace had straightened hers. She wore it piled up, and in the absence of a crown her hair did the trick. She looked so proud, as if she had no idea of her own bare feet. You saw her huge bum and worried about the toilet seat. You thought of her mother and birth and that stuff.

At two-thirty in the afternoon the parrots sat in the shade of the trees and looked down at a human shadow one-third longer than any seen before. There were only the two of them, Mr. and Mrs. Pop Eye, yet it felt like a procession.

The younger kids saw an opportunity and so fell in behind. Our parents looked away. They would rather stare at a colony of ants moving over a rotting pawpaw. Some stood by with their idle machetes, waiting for the spectacle to pass. For the younger kids the sight consisted only of a white man towing a black woman. They saw what the parrots saw, and what the dogs saw while sitting on their scrawny arses snapping their jaws at a passing mosquito. Us older kids sensed a bigger story. Sometimes we caught a snatch of conversation. Mrs. Watts was as mad as a goose. Mr. Watts was doing penance for an old crime. Or maybe it was the result of a bet. The sight represented a bit of uncertainty in our world, which in every other way knew only sameness.

Mrs. Pop Eye held a blue parasol to shade herself from the sun. It was the only parasol in the whole of the island, so we heard. We didn't ask after all the black umbrellas we saw, let alone the question: what was the difference between these black umbrellas and the parasol? And not because we cared if we looked dumb, but because if you went too far with a question like that one, it could turn a rare thing into a commonplace thing. We loved that word—parasol—and we weren't about to lose it just because of some dumb-arse question. Also, we knew, whoever asked that question would get a hiding, and serve them bloody right too.

They didn't have any kids. Or if they did they were grown up and living somewhere else, maybe in America, or Australia or Great Britain. They had names. She was Grace and black like us. He was Tom Christian Watts and white as the whites of your eyes, only sicker.

There are some English names on the headstones in the church graveyard. The doctor on the other side of the island had a full Anglo-Saxon name even though he was black like the rest of us. So, although we knew him as Pop Eye we used to say "Mr. Watts" because it was the only name like it left in our district.

They lived alone in the minister's old house. You couldn't see it from the road. It used to be surrounded by grass, according to my mum. But after the minister died the authorities forgot about the mission and the lawnmower rusted. Soon the bush grew up around the house, and by the time I was born Mr. and Mrs. Pop Eye had sunk out of view of the world. The only times we saw them was when Pop Eye, looking like a tired old nag circling the well, pulled his wife along in the trolley. The trolley had bamboo rails. Mrs. Pop Eye rested her hands on these.

o be a show-off you need an audience. But Mrs. Pop Eye didn't pay us any attention. We weren't worthy of that. It was as if we didn't exist. Not that we cared. Mr. Watts interested us more.

Because Pop Eye was the only white for miles around, little kids stared at him until their ice blocks melted over their black hands. Older kids sucked in their breath and knocked on his door to ask to do their "school project" on him. When the door opened some just froze and stared. I knew an older girl who was invited in; not everyone was. She said there were books everywhere. She asked him to talk about his life. She sat in a chair next to a glass of water he had poured for her, pencil in hand, notebook open. He said: "My dear, there has been a great deal of it. I expect more of the same." She wrote this down. She showed her teacher, who praised her initiative. She even brought it over to our house to show me and my mum, which is how I know about it.

It wasn't just for the fact he was the last white man that made Pop Eye what he was to us—a source of mystery mainly, but also confirmation of something else we held to be true.

We had grown up believing white to be the color of all the important things, like ice cream, aspirin, ribbon, the moon, the stars. White stars and a full moon were more important when my grandfather grew up than they are now that we have generators.

When our ancestors saw the first white they thought they were looking at ghosts or maybe some people who had just fallen into bad luck. Dogs sat on their tails and opened their jaws to await the spectacle. The dogs thought they were in for a treat. Maybe these white people could jump backwards or somersault over trees. Maybe they had some spare food. Dogs always hope for that.

The first white my grandfather saw was a shipwrecked yachtsman who asked him for a compass. My grandfather didn't know what a compass was, so he knew he didn't have one. I picture him clasping his hands at his back and smiling. He wouldn't want to appear dumb. The white man asked for a map. My grandfather didn't know what he was asking for, and so pointed down at the man's cut feet. My grandfather wondered how the sharks had missed that bait. The white man asked where he had washed up. At last my grandfather could help. He said it was an island. The white man asked if the island had a name. My grandfather replied with the word that means "island." When the man asked directions to the nearest shop my grandfather burst out laughing. He pointed up at a coconut tree and back over the white's shoulder whence he had come, meaning the bloody great ocean stocked with fish. I have always liked that story.

Other than Pop Eye or Mr. Watts, and some Australian mine workers, I'd seen few other living whites. The ones I had seen were in an old film. At school we were shown the visit by the duke of something or other many years before in nineteen-hundred-and-something. The camera kept staring at the duke and saying nothing. We watched the duke eat. The duke and the other whites wore mustaches and white trousers. They even wore buttoned-up jackets. They weren't any good at sitting on the ground either. They kept rolling over onto their elbows. We all laughed—us kids—at the whites trying to sit on the ground as they would in a chair. They were handed pig trotters in banana leaves. One man in a helmet could be seen asking for something. We didn't know what until he was brought a piece of white cloth, which he used to wipe his mouth. We roared our heads off laughing.

Mostly, though, I was watching out for my grandfather. He was one of the skinny kids marching by in bare feet and white singlets. My grandfather was the second to top kid kneeling in a human pyramid in front of the white men in helmets eating pig trotters. Our class was asked to write an essay on what we had seen, but I had no idea what it was about. I didn't understand the meaning of it so I wrote about my grandfather and the story he told of the shipwrecked white man he had found washed up like a starfish on the beach of his village, which in those days had no electricity or running water and didn't know Moscow from rum.

Chapter Two

WHAT I AM ABOUT TO TELL RESULTS, I think, from our ignorance of the outside world. My mum knew only what the last minister had told her in sermons and conversations. She knew her times tables and the names of some distant capitals. She had heard that man had been to the moon but was inclined not to believe such stories. She did not like boastfulness. She liked even less the thought that she might have been caught out, or made a fool of. She had never left Bougainville. On my eighth birthday I remember thinking to ask her how old she was. She quickly turned her face away from me, and for the first time in my life I realized I had embarrassed her.

Her comeback was a question of her own. "How old do you think I am?"

When I was eleven, my father flew off on a mining plane. Before that, though, he was invited to sit in a classroom and watch films about the country he was going to. There were films on pouring tea: the milk went in the cup first—though when you prepared your bowl of cornflakes the milk went in after. My mum says she and my father argued like roosters over that last one.

Sometimes when I saw her sad I knew she would be thinking back to that argument. She would look up from whatever she was doing to say, "Perhaps I should have shut up. I was too strong. What do you think, girl?" This was one of the few times she was seriously interested in my opinion and, like the question concerning her age, I always knew what to say to cheer her up.

My father was shown other films. He saw cars, trucks, planes. He saw motorways and became excited. But then there was a demonstration of a pedestrian crossing. You had to wait for a boy in a white coat to raise his sign with "sticks up!"

My father got scratchy. There were too many roads with hard edges and these kids in white coats had the power to control traffic with their stop signs. Now they argued again. My mum said it was no different here. You couldn't just walk where you liked. There was a clip over the ear if you strayed. 'Cause, she said, it was as the Good Book says. You might know about heaven but it didn't mean you had entry as of right.

For a while we treasured a postcard my father sent from Townsville. This is what he had to say: Up to the moment the plane entered the clouds he looked down and saw where we lived for the very first time. From out at sea the view is of a series of mountain peaks. From the air he was amazed to see our island look no bigger than a cow pat. But my mum didn't care about that stuff. All my mum wanted to know was if where he had gone to there were pay packets.

A month later there was a second postcard. He said pay packets hung off factory rafters like breadfruit. And that settled it. We were going to join him—that's what we were going to do, when Francis Ona and his rebels declared war on the copper mine and the company, which, in some way that I didn't understand at the time, brought the redskin soldiers from Port Moresby to our island. According to Port Moresby we are one country. According to us we are black as the night. The soldiers looked like people leached up out of the red earth. That's why they were known as redskins.

News of war arrives as bits of maybe and hearsay. Rumor is its mistress. Rumor, which you can choose to believe or ignore. We heard that no one could get in or out. We didn't know what to make of that, because how could you seal off a country? What would you tie it up in or wrap around it? We didn't know what to believe, then the redskin soldiers arrived, and we learned about the blockade.

We were surrounded by sea, and while the redskins' gunboats patrolled the coastline their helicopters flew overhead. There was no newspaper or radio to guide our thoughts. We relied on word of mouth. The redskins were going to choke the island and the rebels into submission. That's what we heard. "Good luck to them," said my mum. That's how much we cared. We had fish. We had our chickens. We had our fruits. We had what we had always had. In addition to that, a rebel supporter could add, "We had our pride."

Then, one night, the lights went out for good. There was no more fuel for the generators. We heard the rebels had broken into the hospital in Arawa, further down the coast, and taken all the medical supplies. That news really worried our mums, and soon the littlest kids came down with malaria and there was nothing that could be done to help them. We buried them and dragged their weeping mothers away from their tiny graves.

Us kids hung around with our mums. We helped in the gardens. We stalked each other beneath trees that rise several hundred feet in the air. We played in the streams that tumble and spill down steep hillsides. We found new pools in which to look for our floating faces of mischief. We played in the sea and our black skins got blacker under the sun.

Meet the Author

Lloyd Jones was born in New Zealand in 1955. His previous novels and collections of stories include the award-winning The Book of Fame, Biografi, a New York Times Notable Book, Choo Woo, Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance and Paint Your Wife. Lloyd Jones lives in Wellington.

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Mister Pip 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
katknit More than 1 year ago
"Everyone called him Popeye." Thus begins Mister Pip, an eloquently written story about how profoundly literature can influence lives. As Popeye evolves into Mr. Pip, the personalities and character traits of the islanders also emerge. Mother and daughter, war and resistance, husband and wife, civilization and nature, life and death, black and white, nurturance and abandonment - these are dichotomies around which this novel plays out. Mister Pip is narrated by a young woman looking back upon her teen years on a remote Pacific island, who begins to come of age under the tutelage of the substitute school master. His true name is Mr. Watts, and he is the only white person on the island, having married one of its inhabitants. Every day, he reads part of Great Expectations to his mixed-age pupils, and the world opens up to each of them in a different way.

Dramatic, evocative, and filled with hope, sorrow, and a touch of mystery, Mister Pip has deservedly won numerous literary prizes. This is an important book with a timeless, unforgettable message.
Allison_K More than 1 year ago
"This book was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Excellent novel, beautifully written. The story is narrated through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, Matilda. After a war breaks out, driving away the real teachers on island, Mr. Watts, the only white resident left, begins classes for the children by reading from the Dicken's novel, Great Expectations. Matilda's telling of her story of living through the violence of the war brings out the culture of the island and the special stories of its people. There's humor and there's deep sadness. I couldn't put the book down once I got halfway through it, and I highly recommend it. "
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mister pip was a very interesting story. Lloyd Jones did a great job of going into detail about the killings of the people. I felt as if i were there seeing it happen. Some parts of the story really got my attention and some parts didnt interest me at all. But overall the story was a touching and yet gruesome story.
p20014215 More than 1 year ago
Lloyd Jone brought a spectacular relm of suspense throughout the book. It was a book about passion, reality and a fight for survival to keep what is most important in life. While I read the book, each paragraph took back to a person, place or thing in my life. It made appreiciate what I had, and for that I am tankful. Mr.Pip is a truly a book of reality fiction that will give someone a different perspective on life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mister Pip is a deceptively simple tale which celebrates the power of storytelling - the book is heartbreaking and beautiful because of its insights into human nature and the human spirit. I heard the author read an excerpt from 'Mister Pip' at a literary festival in Jamaica 'Calabash' and although 'Great Expectations' was never a favourite of mine (blasphemy I know), I was intigued by the author's use of it in what appeared to be a charming, if improbable, story. The book stayed with me and I was prompted to buy it after circling it for a month at my local bookstore - I wasn't dissapointed. Operating primarily as allegory, the story also suceeds as a uniquley personal tale. Jones invites readers into a very intimate world and has the patience to let his story unfold in such away as to make the incredible story of his characters and their forgotton island accessible and real to his readers. 'Mister Pip' is not a fairy tale. It doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of war, or the general vagaries of life. But Jone's treatment of these issues, however, is deft and refreshing - lacking in either cyncism or sensationalism, which just adds to the books credibility and makes it all the more enjoyable. To put it simply, I loved it!
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LashFB More than 1 year ago
Hilgly recommend this book. Am fortunate that a good friend and an avid as I am told me about it. I certainly would read other books by Lloyd Jones and intend to recommend it to my Book Group. Learned that a movie is in the works. I hope it will be as good as this book. Even teenagers would find it fascinating.
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I am glad I read this book because it talks about New Guinea, a country I knew almost next to nothing about, but since it is about war and poverty there, it's not exactly 'fun' to read. The teacher is a great character, and it is just about life. I would recommend to someone who is interested in broadening their world view, Don't pick it up if you want to laugh or be lightly entertained.
kasi More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most unusual and brilliant novels I have ever read. I was engaged from the first page when the young narrator talks about Popeye. The characters are so unique and we care so much about all the island people. The writing style is beautiful and really draws you in as if you are there on the island. I love the idea of the great,important impact that literature has on our lives and the impact it had on our young narrator. I recommend this novel to everyone I know.
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Interesting story line. Worth reading!
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