Spotlighting another kiwi author this week (although you can get this one through Amazon!), Lloyd Jones has created a sophisticated yet simple novel in Mister Pip. Set for the most part in the island nation of Papua New Guinea, this novel moved me by the author's use of language to create a first-person narrative that I could relate to yet feel vastly different from my own 21st century kiwi Anglo-Saxon perspective.
The story starts in a Papua New Guinea burdened by civil war - this immediately grabbed me as I can remember news items in my childhood highlighting the peace efforts in concluding this very same war. What gave this story flavour is the way the war is told from the view of a small girl, living on one of the outlying islands. Matilda is a girl who daily sees her world shrinking - her Dad is estranged, living in Australia and working in the mines to make a living. The people from her village are leaving to join the rebel army. Eventually the village is cut off from the rest of Papua New Guinea and it is then that the sole European citizen of the village decides that he will attempt to teach the children "school". It is at Mr. Watts' school that the children are introduced to Charles Dickens' Great Expectations from whom the titular character of Mister Pip extends. The children's devotion to the story leads to circumstances in this time of war that no one could forsee.
My favourite motif of this book has to be the key role that a book plays within a book. I'm not sure what fills me with so much joy but this clever technique of art within art never fails to please me. Northanger Abbey is one of my favourite Austen novels (featuring heavily The Mysteries of Udolpho), the way that Bob Dylan songs permeate the sound of Patrick Spillane's play Grace... and blasphemous as this may sound, I love the way that The Da Vinci Code used famous works of art to map out a blood line of the descendants of Jesus Christ, even though I doubt that particular tale is true. The importance that Great Expectations has in the book - and the completely foreign nature of the classic victorian novel to those who are learning it - make for an interesting cultural melting-pot of reading.
This book is a relatively short and uncomplicated read that deals with some rather complex themes. I'd recommend it for reading on a crisp autumn day, lying on a picnic rug in a park. Let the tropical location take you away and the beautiful setting you're lying in bring you slowly back to earth at the end of the story
4.5 stars out of 5