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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 in flames.
After the trouble starts and the soldiers arrive on Matilda’s island, there comes a time when all the white people have left. Only Mr Watts remains, and he wears a red nose and pulls his wife around on a trolley; the kids call him Popeye behind his back. But there is no one else to teach them their lessons, and no books left to learn from—except for Mr Watts’s battered copy of Great Expectations, ‘by my friend Mr Dickens’.
As Mr Watts stands before the class and reads, Dickens’s hero, Pip, starts to come alive in Matilda’s imagination. Soon he has become as real to her as her own family, and the greatest friendship of her life has begun.
But Matilda is not the only one who believes in Pip. And on an island at war, the power of the imagination can be a dangerously provocative thing.
A dazzling achievement, Mister Pip is a love song to the power of storytelling. It is about belonging and losing one’s way, about love, grief and memory, and it shows how books can change our lives forever.
‘One of the best books of the year! Poetic, heartbreaking, surprising. Matilda is a young girl in Bougainville, a tropical island where the horror of civil war lurks. Mr. Watts, the only white person, is the self appointed teacher of the tiny school where the only textbook is the Dickens novel Great Expectations. Storytelling, imagination, courage, beauty, memories and sudden violence are the main elements of this extraordinary book.’
‘New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones’s spare, haunting fable explores the power and limitations of art…’
‘Matilda is in the tradition of Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn, conjuring up an adult world before she can fully understand it; and Mister Pip is a poignant and impressive work which can take its place alongside the classic novels of adolescence.’
Jones’ epigraph is Umberto Eco’s “Characters migrate”. They do. Read this novel and Mr Watts, and perhaps Matilda, will migrate instantly into your heart.’
‘For so brutal a reminder of atrocities so close to home, this is still an oddly satisfying book that goes on resonating long after you get to the end.’
‘As compelling as a fairytale—beautiful, shocking and profound.’
‘This prizewinning novel by New Zealand author Jones is an eloquent homage to the power of storytelling.’
‘A little Gauguin, a bit of Lord Jim, the novel’s lyricism evokes great beauty and great pain.’
‘Jones tactfully handles the confrontation between Mr Watts and Matilda’s mother, aware that the mesmeric qualities of literature can be dangerous as well as redemptive. Only through Great Expectations does Matilda learn to see grown-ups as they really are. Morally subtle, Mister Pip has none of the arid cleverness that mars novels about books, making it a worthy winner of this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.’
‘Lloyd Jones brings to life the transformative power of fiction … The experience of reading in this book is tangible …This is a beautiful book, It is tender, multi-layered and redemptive’
‘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.’
‘Sad, beautiful, poignant, moving and honest, this is a remarkable book.’