Summer Reading Review of Mister Pip

By Sheryl Cherian

Turn on CNN and you will see a world falling apart. Bombs everywhere and love nowhere; traditional values shatter and are lost. Sometimes, as rarely as it may occur, we find people who reinstall the hope that Anderson Cooper yanks away. People like these are often found in small packages. In Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones is the FedEx that introduces us to one of these packages; her name is Matilda.

If you think your life is difficult and use phrases like “F.M.L.” Matilda’s story will change you. This thirteen-year-old island dweller has a simple life, but she lives on no Hawaii. Luxury was left behind when her ancestors came to the island, and it never came to visit. In the Land of the Free, education is highly stressed, but this is not the case with Matilda’s homeland. While we complain about returning to school and writing those last-minute papers, she is devastated by the abrupt closing of her one-room school house.

What kind of a novel would this be if the main character was perfect? No, Matilda struggles to find a sense of herself while dealing with the fact that her father left her for the industrial, tower-popping world.

Within all this mess and mayhem, we find our hero; he was known as Pop Eye, but the children respectfully come to call him Mr. Watts. This lanky man is the only white among an island of blacks. Although he lives a quiet life with his black wife in a house concealed by overgrown shrubs, he is a caring man. Mr. Watts volunteers to teach the island’s children after the school is closed. For the first time, he is stepping out of his mysterious shadow.

We have all had that inspirational teacher who impacted our lives in ways we never would’ve imagined on the first day of class. To Matilda, Mr. Watts is that teacher. Every day he reads to them from Charles Dickens’s classic, Great Expectations. They soar above the deepest oceans and are taken to a foreign land called London. Each day, they roam the murky London streets with a skinny boy named Pip.

Her escape route was there all along. Matilda is able to flee her troubled life by immersing herself in Dickens’ world. Imagination is her way out of war and destruction. We could learn a thing or two from this 13-year-old girl. Her impressive coping mechanisms and views of the wide world are interesting to brood about because of their incredible uniqueness.

In a plot so rare, there are only minor criticisms. Towards the ending of the novel, I was feeling a little rushed. It was more like a drive-thru than a dine-in restaurant. Characters came and went like in the blink of an eye, and I had to go backwards in the book to remind myself who was who. Elaboration in a few more pages wouldn’t have hurt, and I would surely be willing to read it.

The author, Lloyd Jones, a New-Zealand born journalist at trade, is able to illustrate a world of imagination, hope, and innocence with just a ballpoint pen and a glass of water. He is known to challenge realism, and does so in a story that brings together distress, racism, slaughter, imagination, the human good, and a touch of Charles Dickens.  If Mister Pip is a melting pot of contemporary issues and traditional values, then I must say, that is some sweet soup.