Friday, December 15, 2006

Mr Pip

I finished reading Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones, yesterday. Jones is a New Zealand writer, and for once it's been good to read an NZ writer who doesn't feel that gloom and drear is the proper way to write the great NZ novel.

Mr Pip is told through the eyes of a young Pacific Island girl (probably from New Guinea) called Matilda. In the background are 'redskins' and rebels, two warring factions who have taken over since the white miners left. The other main character is a white man who lives with his wife and the villagers, but is isolated to a degree by his colour and his views on religion. This man agrees to teach the children of the village and does most of his teaching through the reading of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. This opens the eyes of the children up to a completely different world, one that they only understand in part, but which also encourages their imaginations. As part of the teaching, Mr Watts (the white man) invites the parents in to share their knowledge. Matilda's mother is suspicious of Watts and his view on religion, and an antagonism arises.

Unlike many New Zealand novels this story has a great warmth about it, a love of literature underpinning it, and the introduction of the possibly radical idea that children from a Pacific Island can learn about themselves just as much through a 19th century novel as they can through their own traditions and myths. It affirms the value of European culture at a time when the indigenous people of NZ have downplayed its value.

This is by far the best NZ novel I've read in a long time. There is some violence in it - mostly presented in an almost offstage fashion; a real sense of what it is like to be one of the native people of this island; and some great insights into how self-sacrificing people are, even when it costs others' their lives.
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