Conrad's Reviews > Mister Pip

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
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Nov 01, 07

bookshelves: fiction, owned, pacific-islands
Read in October, 2007

This is when two and a half stars would be handy. I really couldn't stand this book for a couple of reasons when I first started reading it. It has a narrative voice that sounds like an oldish adult trying to sound like a five year old. Jones writes in staccato sentences that are occasionally poetic but more often tend toward a voice I will refer to as Tragic Deadpan, a voice that was also used to disastrous effect in Octavia Butler's writing. It is uniquely unenlightening on the plight of the Papuan masses, though I can now rest assured that I should be glad not to be a member of that immiserated bunch. Worst of all, toward the beginning the novel reads like Dead Poets Society-type teacher schmaltz. (Being a teacher does sensitize one to the presumption that a good teacher is a combination of Erasmus, Steve Martin, and Mother Teresa.)

But the ending was really good, in an inconclusive, life-sucks, Coetzee kind of way. I wasn't expecting it to go in quite the direction that it did; I certainly wasn't expecting it to be as horrifyingly violent, especially since a lot of it is more YA than Bookeresque. It also made me go directly on to my fourth attempt to read Bleak House, no small feat.

Anyway, read it and let me know what you think. And maybe you can explain to me why everyone is saying this book takes place on some anonymous island, when we are told that (a) the village in question has copper mines nearby, (b) the place is within boating distance of the Solomons, and (c) the main character's father worked in Arawa? All of which narrow it down to Bougainville?
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message 1: by Donna (last edited Nov 07, 2007 09:12AM) (new)

Donna Kirk You're hilarious. I love a stinging review. There is an art to tragic deadpan that can be both deeply moving or profoundly funny and it sounds like he missed it. I also love the phrase: uniquely unenlightening because it's so cheeky.

About teaching, though. Erasmus was the literary and academic hermits hermit and I have always had a place for Steve Martin because, well...he's hot, but Mother Teresa scares me. I unfortunately have my own schmaltzy version of teaching and it does, of course, include the Erasmus/Martin dynamic, but as a third choice, it might begin to lean more toward Ghandi and less toward Mum Teresa, who, by the way, just had her diaries released and let me just say: nihilism has a new spin and its creepy looking.

Anyway. Nice review and look forward to reading more because I don't have time to read lately which is depressing me and this is the best way to tap into what's going on.


Jennie As I started to write a review of this book, I was having a difficult time capturing in words why I didn't care for it. Then I read your review and you perfectly nailed the reasons this book falls flat. I had a really hard time getting into the first half because of the Dead Poet's Society sentimentality, although I thought it picked up towards the end - mainly because the story took on a bit more personality. I too, was really surprised by the violent conclusion. However, the stilted hollow, overly mature (and yet someone childish) narrative voice really didn't suit the main character. Also I thought the narration had a distinctly masculine flavor to it. If you changed the narrator's name to Jack, it wouldn't make any difference in the text. I found this a little strange as repeatedly through the book I kept forgetting the character was female. Anyways, great review.


Nathan I wasn't as bothered by the narrative voice as you were, although I tend to agree about the sentimentalized teacher dynamic - what preserves it from being totally mawkish in this book, I think, is how Mr. Watts maintains - like Miss Havisham - the appropriate distance of the truly strange. In other words, it's not a mawkish emotional relationship between Watts and Matilda; he's more an object of fascination and bewilderment than a mentor/teacher figure. He functions as Miss Havisham to Matilda's Pip, although he's not as interesting or well-drawn a character as Havisham is. But the abandoned schoolhouse overgrown with vines, to my mind, clearly corresponds to Satis House.


Gerald Camp I think you all missed the point that the narrator is the adult Matilda who is working on her PhD in literature, thesis subject, "Dickens's Orphans" (and writing the book you just finished reading). I didn't see any "mawkish sentimentality," just the memory of the man who changed her life. We should all have a mentor who turns us on to Dickens. Mine was Mrs. Joyce Wickline at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane Washington. She gave me "Great Expectations" my senior year, I read it in two nights, and became an English teacher so that I could live in the world of great literature she opened up to me.


Conrad Gerald, I did in fact finish the book, and so was aware of the framing device. I regret that you are so certain that we all missed such a blindingly obvious point (and if that is indeed the only "point" of the book, then it could've been made in sentences only as long as your comment). I do not mean to insult your favorite English teacher and am glad that you like Dickens - I do too. Anyway, we can go back and forth all day insisting that the book is or isn't mawkishly sentimental and never reach much agreement.


Gyuris Gábor Thank for your comments. I was also a bit confused about the characteristic of the narrative: it was hard to imagine that a little girl wd think and act that way . It is also a point, that how objectively she was thinking about her mother, keeping a distant,observing and analyzing her, that much, I cd nt imagine her goodrelation to her mother. (Unless in the end it is given more description).And lots of similar things I cdnt come with, but all in all It is worth to read.
I was touched by the end, always makes me thinkng if wheter this kind of violance happend, and whether what realistic roots the story has. A civil war was really took place at Bouganville in the 1990s.


Marie Great review, I wish I was as articulate :) especially as it so encapsulated how I felt about it after I'd finished. From the style to emotional content, it simply was too uneven to really be compelling, to me.


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