Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have complicated thoughts about this book. On the one hand, it has a natural appeal to book lovers because, after all, we love books. So a story about bringing the wonder and imagination of a great book to underpriveleged children is alluring. On the other hand, it has a point of view that would make Christopher Hitchens proud. Hitchens has written that literature is of infinite splendor and sustains the mind and soul and the lead protagonist of the book is a sheepish agnostic who stirs a crisis in the narrator Matilda's mind concerning her family's primitive faith.
This faith is a mix of Bible knowledge and primitive circle-of-life mysticism. Mr. Watts is the only white man on a black island and comes to his task of teaching with an assurance of his knowledge of Great Expectations and Mr. Dickens. He's the one who invites the natives in to speak on whatever topic they like. It is he who, although an oddball, is open-minded and has an allowance for other points of view. Whereas Matilda's mother wants to antagonize his skepticism and confront him directly about his lack of belief. She eventually steals his book and is responsible for multiple calamities brought onto his family.
But the story is more complex than this, because in the end Matilda's mother ultimately sacrifices for Mr.Watts. And Mr. Watts turns out to be less of a person than Matilda believes him to be. He is a hypocrite in the original meaning, an actor, a man playing a part. And so I came to the end of the book disappointed to see another author portraying the skeptic as a cool, contemplative character to be emulated.
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