What a creative novel! Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is set on a tiny, tropical island called Bougainville, down near New Zealand. The story takes place during Bougainville’s civil war in 1991, while the island is blockaded. All of the Bougainvillians are black, except for one eccentric white man, Mr. Watts. Our narrator is thirteen-year-old Matilda, who lives with her mother. Her father has gone away to work in the “white world,” and has not returned or been heard from in years.
There are about twenty children on the island, and because of the civil war, all of their teachers have fled. As such, the children have not been to school in a long time, and the old schoolhouse is deserted. Here’s where the strange Mr. Watts comes into the picture. Since he’s white, the natives assume he’s educated. In truth, he isn’t. However, he takes it upon himself to reopen the old schoolhouse and attempt to educate the children with only one book, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
But Matilda’s mother feels like she’s losing her daughter to her education. She begins to resent Mr. Watts, and finds reasons to disapprove of the content Matilda shares with her from Great Expectations. Soon, the book causes major problems between the natives and the soldiers on the island. I really enjoyed this highly original novel.