Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
I forget which party it was...but it was a good one and the shop was packed with people. I was selling books to someone and they were telling me what a great bookshop we have created when they thrust a card in my general direction and announced they worked for a certain publisher. This is the kind of thing that happens on a regular basis and my immediate response is always to ask what's HOT from the publisher concerned at the minute. (You would be amazed how many times I'm met with a blank face in response to this question. But obviously publishers are always a step ahead of booksellers and while we might be thinking about Christmas now they are probably already planning way into the next year. Working out what books are new in the shops right now usually requires a bit of brain work...)
Anyway the person worked for John Murray and one of the books she suggested was Mister Pip (now Booker Longlisted)
I sped through Mister Pip as I sped through France on a TGV.
What can I say? It is close to the perfect Summer Read. Lloyd, pretty much unknown in this country, is well regarded in his native New Zealand and it's easy to see why. The novel is set on an isolated but resource-rich island in the South Pacific. War has recently broken out as various shadowy factions struggle to gain control of the lucrative mining industry. Details of the conflict are left to the imagination of the reader. All you really need to know is that there are foreign soldiers fighting indigenous guerrillas. As both sides become increasingly brutalised the civilian population are drawn into the violence.
There is only one white man living on the island. He has always been a figure of fun and ridicule but now steps forward to take centre stage. He offers to re-open the school and teach the local children. His method primarily involves reading Great Expectations by Dickens out loud. This has a huge effect on the children and their internal lives. In fact some of the parents are so disturbed by the entry of Mister Pip into the lives of their children that they begin to contribute to the classes as well, telling traditional tales that pass on the wisdom of their ancestors. As the book progresses contemporary reality on the island and the fictional world of 19th century England interact in a variety of unpredictable ways.
This book achieves that rare blend of being thought provoking and yet also impossible to put down. It must be a strong contender for the Booker...