All That They Need to Know They Learned From Dickens
By Lloyd Jones
256 pages. The Dial Press. $20.
It happens that Mr. Watts is Bougainville’s only white resident. It also happens — and let the whimsy-phobe beware — that he has often been seen wearing a clown’s red rubber nose and towing his wife, Grace, on a wagon behind him.
“Our parents looked away,” Matilda says with the frankness and local flavor that give “Mister Pip” much of its power to transcend heavy-handedness. “They would rather stare at a colony of ants moving over a rotting pawpaw.” There are readers who would make the same choice when confronted with a book that crams lessons from Dickens into every corner.
But “Mister Pip” moves easily, even comically, into its “Great Expectations” fetish. Since there is no formal education to be had, and this is the book that Mr. Watts knows best, he improvises the curriculum that comes most easily to him. In one of many convenient parallels to be found here, he doles out “Great Expectations” to the children chapter by chapter, just as Dickens’s first readers received the book in serial form.