Mister Pip is set in the early 90’s during the Bougainville Island civil war. Mr. Watts is the only white man left on the island, because those able to flee did so because of the war. He decides to stay behind and teaches and inspires the children by reading to them Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. He rebuilds the old schoolhouse, and he reads them one chapter each day. Not only do the readings teach the children but it helps distract them from the violence and tragedy happening in their island.
If you have not read Great Expectations you may not know its main character goes by the name of Pip. The children in Mr. Watts’ class follow the story of Pip and his life and adventures in London. Matilda, the main character of Mister Pip, is one of Mr. Watts’ students and has lived on the island her entire life. She is really fascinated with Pip’s character and shows the most enthusiasm for the readings. In the end, however, it is revealed that Mr. Watts had not been reading them the true Dickens’ text; he had been altering certain plots in an effort to give the children more hope.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t read Mister Pip when it was released in 2006; it took me three years to even hear about the novel. I heard of it in quite an unconventional sense. Hugh Laurie, who was one of my favorite actors at the time, had an interview in which he said Mister Pip was his favorite novel. Because I am a big fan of Laurie’s written work, I thought I might enjoy Mister Pip as well. I was not disappointed. It is one of the best contemporary novels I have ever read. It is well written, and because I am a great fan of Charles Dickens I found all the allusions and parallels to Great Expectations a fantastic addition.
Since its publication, Mister Pip has won several awards including: being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007; the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific; the Montana Medal for Fiction or Poetry. Its success continues because it will soon be made into a film starring none other than Mr. Hugh Laurie himself. Well, I should say co-starring since he is obviously not playing Matilda but the beloved teacher Mr. Watts. Andrew Adamson wrote the adaptation and will also be directing it; the film is set to be released in 2012.
I highly suggest you read this book before you see the film; even if you don’t plan on seeing the film, it is an excellent read. Lloyd Jones was actually a journalist and reported on the violence and blockade of Bougainville that broke out in 1990, which is why I think this novel is so realistic and has done so well.