Mister Pip: Escapism and Stories at Their Best

by

Mister Pip is a novel by Lloyd Jones that centers around the experiences of a child named Matilda who grows up on an island that is slowly being torn apart by civil war. As war looms nearer, all the non-natives, all the non-whites, flee the area, save one man who stays behind for personal reasons, Mt. Watts. Soon Mr. Watts becomes the de facto school teacher, despite having no training and only one book—Dickens’s Great Expectations. As Mr. Watts reads Dickens to the class, Matilda finds herself immersed in the world of Mr. Pip and his escapism on many levels.

The book is an interesting, thoughtful meditation on the power of the written word to open up new worlds and new horizons, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. Jones, the author, also does a good job with contrasts: the best and the worst, childhood dreams and the brutality of war, 19th century England and a 20th century black island. In the eyes of Matilda fantasy and reality become intermeshed to such a large degree that they begin to invade each other’s realms.

The weakest part of the novel is its depiction of the civil war. This part is left vague, unexplained, and almost melts into non-reality as Matilda living through a book takes center stage. That being said, the background of war still provides a useful counterpoint that sharply and unexpectedly draws the novel’s characters, and consequently, the reader out of the world of Mister Pip as seen through a child’s eyes and reminds you of the harshness of real life. While I felt this point could have been much better developed if the war had been portrayed as a real thing instead of fuzzy backdrop, the escapism and exploration of the power of a story remains the central selling point of this short novel.

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