3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An exercise in different types of storytelling,
This review is from: Mister Pip (Paperback)
The main story unfolds in the exotic, and for most readers little-known location of the islands adjacent to Papua New Guinea, itself one of the newer indepdendent states. An accident of history placed the island of Bougainville, occupied by Melanesians ('blacks') and geographically part of the Solomon Islands, with the racially distinct Papua New Guinea ('Redskins'), leading to a rebellion against the mainland government in 1975 and an all-out war from 1990. Mr Pip is set in the context of the latter, with rural communities trying to exist in what was dismissed as a civil conflict by the outside world, but which could also be described as a liberation struggle against a new set of colonial masters.
In this environment it is difficult for great literature to survive. However, Mr Pip, the rather eccentric and tatterdemalion outsider, becomes almost by default the conduit whereby one literary classic, Great Expectations will live on, inspiring the young islander Matilda to become a Dickens expert herself and thus a conveyor of a literary tradition (possibly eventually to her own people).
Such is the main story - nothing really exceptional. What is unusual is the way Lloyd Jones has added other layers of story-telling. We discover that Mr Pip has told an over-simplified version of Dickens to the village children. Then, when the book is destroyed in the violence inflicted by outsiders, the children gather together their fragments of memory and create a new narrative. Their success is one of the positive features of an otherwise rather depressing novel, indicating that great novels that inspire will not die even if they physically perish.
Other stories are told - Mr Pip's account of his former life, related to the 'Rambos', the black guerrillas - romantic, and fictitious, as revealed by June Watts later in the book.
Against this are set the values of the village women - the folk wisdom they reveal in the classroom, and the stance taken by Matilda's mother. Lloyd Jones portrays Bougainville in some detail (and this part of the book could have been shortened) and in contrast to the values of white society. The author has developed the theme of 'culture clash' in the displays set up in the spare room, at first an attempt to meld tribal/Western values, but later, and inevitably, separating out into distinct parts. One senses at the end of the novel that Matilda, an accomplished scholar apparently well-integrated into white society, is has herself become torn between the two and may well choose to return to her cultural, as well as her physical home.