I was given this book apropos of nothing. It was a gift for my 21st, and whereas other book gifts existed in some sort of context – a shared interest in Noam Chomsky, or an actor giving me a book on creative activism – this one appeared on its own. But I’m not one to be discouraged. I set about reading it.
Mister Pip tells quite a story. It is set in a Papua New Guinean island community which is caught up in some sort of internecine guerrilla war. The village community is host to a single white man, Mr. Watts, who volunteers in the absence of other men to educate the village children. He does this by reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (not to be confused with Edmund Wells’ Grate Expectations) to them. The narrator, Matilda, comes to quite love the book and its protagonist, Pip. Unfortunately, a whole lot of shit goes down and basically nobody has a good time of it.
The text isn’t one that lends itself to analysis as some of the other books have. I feel the best way to describe the book is with how it made me feel, which is: good. I think the best analogy I can create is the irresistible and unambiguous meaning of a toddler holding their arms towards one, outstretched. Cute things. This book similarly invites one’s attention, and though it simply could have been a combination of the weather and my indolence, I certainly read it quite lovingly.
It’s got lots of beautiful situations. The characters are pretty good, and the writing itself inoffensive, but the situations stood out to me. They are at times bizarre, at times evocative, and at the best of times, tragic or pathetic. The emotional situations actually washed over me a little bit, as I didn’t feel too connected to any of the characters, but I did feel connected to the overall fate of the village, and Matilda somewhat.
I feel like I’m damning this book with faint praise: the reality is that I really enjoyed it and it is, in fact, very enjoyable. It’s simple and its elegant and it tells a discrete and moving story discretely and movingly. It’s not necessarily worth moving Heaven and Earth to buy, but is worth borrowing if you stumble across it at your local library.