Wednesday, December 4, 2013

MISTER PIP by Lloyd Jones

Matilda is a 14-year-old living with her mother on a war-torn island near Australia.  (For some unknown reason, I kept imagining this child as a boy, but then the author would jolt me with a reminder of her gender.  Except for a critical scene late in the book, it doesn't really matter.)  Since all the teachers have evacuated, the one lone white man in the village, Mr. Watts, lures all the kids back to the schoolhouse by reading Great Expectations aloud.  Matilda develops a particular affinity for the character Pip, and there is so much talk about this fictional youth that he poses somewhat of a threat, not only to the beliefs of Matilda's mother and others, but ultimately to the lives of everyone in the village.  Matilda is pulled in two directions, torn between love and loyalty toward her mother, and the respect and admiration she has for Mr. Watts, who has introduced her to a world beyond her own.  This dichotomy is not new in literature, but I liked the presentation here.  Both Mr. Watts and Matilda's mother are martyrs to their own causes, and perhaps a bit of practicality would have been useful for both of them.  Matilda faces a moral dilemma and will eventually have to choose her own course, blending the best of both influences.

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