Time for another book review! And I’m rewinding back to earlier months with the Pink Fibro Bookclub facebook group, as we won’t be sharing our thoughts on Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda until the end of January. (And at this rate, I won’t be sharing mine at all, as I can’t seem to get my hands on a copy!)
In November, we read Mister Pip. By we, I mean everyone else; my copy arrived in December.
And way back in August, we read The Light Between Oceans. Way back before I’d started writing reviews on this blog. Time to play catch-up.
Here are my thoughts.
Mister Pip / Lloyd Jones
On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with almost everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.
Wow. What a book. Brilliant writing. Deceptively simple. And all in just 256 pages.
Mister Pip is set in the middle of a war, but it doesn’t wax lyrical about war and the atrocities committed. It is narrated by Matilda, who is thirteen years of age at the beginning of the book. Fear is present in the book, of course, but confusion and inconvenience play just as large a role, along with a sense of approaching inevitability.
It was weird to go from reading Lionel Shriver’s books, with the constant use of big words and complicated sentence structures, to Mister Pip, which would serve as a study in how deceptively simple words and language construction can still paint a beautiful picture.
In this case, less is definitely more. So very much more. The language appears to take a backseat (although I’m more inclined to believe that every word was carefully considered and had to fight for its right to be on the page), letting the story itself shine.
Some standout lines and phrases:
- …I only knew my dad as a child knows a parent, as a sort of crude outline filled in with one or two colors.
- The roosters strutted around. Seeing them made you feel human, because they didn’t know anything. They didn’t know about guns and the redskins from Moresby. They didn’t know about the mine or about the politics or of our fears. The roosters only knew how to be roosters.
- A prayer was like a tickle. Sooner or later God would have to look down to see what was tickling his bum.
- I had not felt included until she barricaded our sleeping place. Now I felt odd, like a piece of fruit that doesn’t know it’s fruit and therefore the object of someone’s appetite.
Perhaps the language was chosen because of the protagonist; perhaps Lloyd Jones always writes this way. Either way, I like it. And I’m keen to read more of his work.
The Light Between Oceans / M.L. Stedman
A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.
They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.
The Light Between Oceans is beautifully written. The language is beautiful. The pictures that are painted with words are just beautiful. (Wow, how many times can I use the word ‘beautiful’? Clearly, any book I might one day deign to write won’t receive such a warm review.)
In places, it was perhaps too descriptive. The elaborate descriptions robbed me of that book club joy you get from discovering that someone else has imagined the setting, the events or perhaps even the main character in a completely different way to you. They robbed me from making strident assertions that MY imagining was, of course, correct, and yours, my friend, was WAAAAY off. (Okay, so perhaps that’s not a bad thing.)
The descriptions made for slow going to begin with. In places, my eyes started flicking ahead to find the action. But flick ahead they did. Deserting the book was never an option. I had to see it through, and follow the journey of the characters. The bonds formed, splintered, and formed anew. The heartbreaks – plural – and the gut-wrenching decision that had to be made many times over.
- The white stone light tower rested against the slate sky like a stick of chalk.
- ….If he doesn’t think about it too hard, he knows who he is and what he’s for. He just has to keep the light burning. Nothing more.
- History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent.
- …Darkness seeps into the sky second by second, until the shadows no longer fall but rise from the ground and fill the air completely.
This book moved me, but, given the subject material, I was surprised that it didn’t wreck me. I approached this book with some trepidation, having not long had my second child. His conception (and that of his older sister) hadn’t happened easily, so I expected this book to require a lot of me, and possibly leave me empty.
But it didn’t. I followed the journey, I fretted, and I felt sick to the stomach. And I thought about the book for a long time. But it didn’t wreck me. And I thank M.L. Stedman for that.
Have you read Mister Pip or The Light Between Oceans? What did you think?