by Lloyd Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Most people have books that they consider to be old friends. Books that they turn to in moments of grief or desperation, books that can get them through the worst of life and that have a cherished place on their bookshelves. I have two such books: Pride and Prejudice, which can transport me away from the very deepest of depressions, and Hideous Kinky, which has pulled me through many a night’s insomnia. When it comes to P&P any copy will do, but I think I would brave fire to snatch my dog-eared, free-with-a-magazine copy of Hideous Kinky from the jaws of death!
Reading this book I felt I had found another true friend.
The fact is, this is a book about that relationship with books. Braving the daily horrors of civil war, an island village in the Pacific attempts to maintain some hold on normality through the setting up of a village school. The only textbook is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, lovingly shared with passion and affection by self-appointed teacher (and the only white man on the island), Mr Watts.
Somehow the story transcends the horrors this book unveils, and leaves you with the warm afterglow created by the children’s enthusiasm for Pip and his adventures. This is the kind of story that wraps you up in itself and forces your to shut out the rest of the world. It is only when you emerge from your coccoon, emotionally battered, tear-stained and horrified, that you realise how powerful the prose is. So simply written, so digestible, so horrific and yet so beautiful.
I picked this book up to read this week with the intention of clearing some space on my bookshelf, of listing it on Green Metropolis as soon as I’d finished. This won’t be happening. This book is one I’ll go back to again and again, marvelling once more with the children as they uncover the tale of Mister Pip.