Mister Pip By Lloyd Jones

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones began our first book club discussion of 2011. 

The beginning sentence of the book had a few gripped from the start, but a few were frustrated with the anomaly and the contrast of the first section and later more violent sections of the book.

The main character of Matilda we felt was equally frustrating.  Some thought that she should have been more emotionally developed living in such an environment.   There is also no mention of her name until page 29 of the book, which we thought may have signified that she wanted to set the scene of where she lived before she began to tell the reader of her own story.  

The first major impact of the story was when Mr Watts introduces Dickens to the school/town.  Was he right in teaching the children when his own knowledge was limited we asked, but then who else was capable of doing so on the island?  It was a moral obligation.  Was he also right in doing his own abridged version of the book – we couldn’t decide whether this was his lack of education or he was doing this to help the children understand.   The fact that he invited the Mums in to school to cover his lack of knowledge almost backfired on him, due to their ignorance and certainly added to their dislike of the person that was trying to educate their children.

Mr Watts came back to the island to live with his wife who was a former resident.  His wife had gone away to be educated and returned instead with a husband, much to the disdain of the islanders.  Mr Watts was seen as a cuckoo by the islanders and certainly the fact that he wears a red nose and drags his wife around in the cart like she is the Queen of Sheba, certainly does him no favours.  We couldn’t decide whether it was a mental issue or just eccentric behaviour.  The reason we felt that Mr Watts stays on the island, is of course because this is where his wife feels settled.  He desperately tries to fit in but is like a round peg in a square hole and the whole village life leaves him feeling uncomfortable, which may well bring on the eccentric behaviour.

When the island becomes invaded, it is Dickens that becomes Mr Watts downfall.  Matilda’s Mum hiding the book brings on a chain of events that couldn’t be stopped.  The villagers again show their lack of ignorance by burning the contents of Mr Watts property including all of the books, that they could have gained so much knowledge from.  Mr Watts is well aware of what his destiny is and by encouraging the soldiers to stay, is indeed preempting his own death.  The fact that Matilda survives, we thought was a natural instinct that some people have and reminiscent of Great Expectations and the fact that Pip survives what ever life throws at him.

Dickens remains in her life, long after she leaves the island and brings her to trace Mr Watts’ first wife.  Some of us were a little surprised that this wife was suddenly in the story, but she was probably introduced to doubt the history of Mr Watts and perhaps all that we had learnt about him, may not have been the truth.

Most of us enjoyed this novel, but felt that the contrast between the two halves of the book was too much.

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