Nothing reveals more about the human spirit than the resilience of individuals when subjected to a reign of terror and brutality. Nothing is more satisfying than to see those same individuals, using only their humanity for one another to defy the odds, reject the oppressors and rejoice in the core values of life.
In essence, Mister Pip is a story that has been told many times before in the ghettos of Warsaw, under the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and many more. This story however is set in a little known but equally brutal conflict that occurred in the Bougainville province of Papua New Guinea between 1988 and 1998.
Mister Pip is a work of fiction based around real events and as the title reveals uses the lead character from Charles Dickens work Great Expectations as the storytelling device. This is a superbly crafted novel and the use of a Dickens character from a bygone era as a beacon of hope and enlightenment during a contemporary time of conflict is pure genius.
The setting is a small isolated coastal village bordered by dense jungle, within which the civil war is raging. Villagers are dependent upon their gardens and fishing for survival, living in much the same way as their forebears through the millennia. Many children form part of the community but their school has been destroyed during the conflict and the teacher has left.
Enter an elderly eccentric Englishman, Mr Watts who has been living in the village for some time with his wife. Known as Pop Eye to the locals, the Englishman often parades through the village dressed in a crinkled white linen suit and wearing a clown’s red nose. Behind he tows a trolly carrying his wife, striking a regal pose. Already we are aware this will not be an ordinary tale.
Pop Eye is not a teacher but is well aware of how Dickens set his characters amid squalor and poverty and found ways for them to succeed against the odds. Great Expectations becomes the primary tool used by Pop Eye to teach English to his new found students and the character of Pip soon becomes a metaphor with whom the students readily identify. As the torment, exhilaration and frustration of Pip’s escapades are recounted, the students are taken on a journey of exploration into a bygone era but unwittingly into an understanding of their own potential and destiny. Pip shows the way of the ‘great expectations’ that can unfold when individuals take control of their lives. So consumed do the children become with Pip, that in their eyes Pop Eye becomes the embodiment of the character, earning the sobriquet of Mister Pip throughout the village.
Mister Pip is a joy to read. The author’s ability to weave an historic character into a modern setting, the sheer originality of thought, the sweep of emotions as the civil war impacts on village life and the exploration of the characters all contribute to a deeply satisfying work.
Mister Pip was published in 2006 by Text Publishing Melbourne Australia.
Available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.Mister Pip won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book.
Mister Pip was produced as a film in 2012 and is also available on DVD.