Saturday, 15 October 2011

Mister Pip

by Lloyd Jones

This beautifully told story is set on Bougainville, the Melanesian island of which very existence I was ignorant until now, during the 1990s civil war. I loved the book, but be warned. When the “redskin” soldiers appear in the village for the first time, you know it is not going to end well. Still, nothing prepares you to the horrors of their final visit.

My favourite chapters are the ones where Mr Watts, the only white person in the village, invites the parents of the children to come into his classroom and “share what they knew of the world”.
‘There is a place called Egypt,’ she said. ‘I know nothing of that place. I wish I could tell you kids about Egypt. Forgive me for not knowing more. But, if you care to listen, I will tell you everything I know about the colour blue.’
And so we heard about the colour blue.
‘Some islands have beautiful names for different winds. My favourite is the wind that is known as “gentle as a woman”.’
Gilbert’s uncle, a big man, round as an oil drum, black as tar from toiling out at sea, came to speak to us about ‘broken dreams’. He said the best place to find a broken dream is on the wharf. ‘Look at all those dead fish with their eyes and mouths open. They can’t believe they are not in the sea and never will be again.’
‘At night the blimmin’ dogs and roosters chase after dreams and break them in two. The one good thing about a broken dream is that you can pick up the threads of it again. By the way, fish go to heaven. Don’t believe any other shit you hear.’

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