§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

I expected to find a book about teaching Dickens’ Great Expectations in unusual circumstances. I thought my own first experience of GE—teaching it to Third Formers at Sierra Leone’s Albert Academy in the mid sixties—might be relevant. It wasn’t particularly. The novel was so much more than a tale of an effective teacher.

Recently I seem to have discovered a new form of contemporary novel, one that is dominated by plot and by the biggest moral questions humans can ask, that is very well written, often by someone outside of Europe or North America where the novel began and where inhabitants claim ownership. Likely to be short by novelistic standards. This one is a perfect example. As is A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yeshova and The Attack by Yasmina Khadra which I read earlier this year.

This one is from New Zealand. The main character is a black girl from Bougainville, an island of Papua New Guinea (or the Solomons depending on point of view and/or politics) known, if at all, as a battlefield in WWII, but also the scene of a deadly rebellion that never grabbed much international attention.

The main characters are a schoolgirl named Mathilda and her mother, Dolores, struggling in the midst of armed rebellion in the mid-90ies, to survive in their traditional village, as well as Mr. Watts, also a resident of the village who was briefly the schoolteacher when all other whites and most educated blacks had fled. It’s Mr. Watts who introduced Great Expectations into the curriculum. He’s not really a teacher, feels unprepared for the job, but uses Pip’s story to encourage the children to have faith in who they are and what they stand for even in the midst of radical danger and change. Mathilda is the student who most internalizes Pip’s example and Dolores, her mother, is Mr. Watts’ greatest critic—because he is godless, doesn’t believe in the Devil either, and doesn’t know how to do anything practical.


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