Monday, September 10, 2007

half a world away

If I had to name my favourite cover from this years selection Mister Pip would win. Eye catching colours fill bold shapes, printed onto pleasing matt paper. And thankfully the words within please too.

We join Matilda (aged 14) on her South Pacific island home. It’s 1991 and a time of change - war is rumbling, people are taking sides, lives are being lost. But the children of Bougainville are offered a welcome escape from the harsh realities by Pop Eye Watts, the only white man on the island, and self-styled teacher who transports them far away with his reading of Great Expectations. [Great Expectations works as a character within this novel - as such a reader needs no more previous knowledge of the book than they would have of any other fictional character they encounter]

Watts is everything a good teacher should be - knowing his limits, never claiming to know everything he calls upon the parents to come in and share their knowledge which results in lessons on such wonderful topics as the colour blue and broken dreams. As with the many stories within stories that are told in Mister Pip it’s the vivid telling that gives them their life -

“His mum got drunk on jungle juice and feel off a tree inside the house. When she hit the ground her eyes bounced out of her skull. When she lost her eyes she also lost her memory.”

Despite the ever present threat of violence this novel really tells the story of the power of literature itself. The way a book can make you think about yourself, your life - the way you can draw parallels and note differences. Charles Dickens offers Matilda a way to learn things not passed down from her parents. But the power of books also brings danger - and Great Expectations takes on the status of a holy book, it can support or denounce, save or condemn. It can also raise barriers between a mother and daughter forcing difficult choices.

I am a fan of fiction written from a child’s perspective and Lloyd Jones handles the form with great skill - Matilda is alive and believable, balancing knowledge with naivety.

“The great shame of trees is that they have no conscience. They just go on staring.”

Hand in hand with Matilda we come to understand the magic of imagination - not least in the scene where the islanders pool their collective memories of Mrs Watts, both real and fictional, and thereby bring her to a new kind of life.

As is often the case, I find it hardest to describe those things I like the most, and so it is with Mister Pip. The prose was light and poetic and in keeping with the story and Matilda’s voice and had me catching my breath at times -

“The world is grey at that hour, it moves more slowly. Even the seabirds are content to hold onto their reflections.”

Safe to say, Mister Pip is my favourite Booker read so far. I’m pleased to see it sitting tight on the shortlist and I think its become my choice to win so far.


Stefanie said...

I so want to read Mr Pip!

dandelion said...

hmm, based on your reviews, i'm liking this best so far - and the cover is really fab!...x