In a novel that is at once intense, beautiful, and fablelike, Lloyd Jones weaves a transcendent story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of narrative to transform our lives.
The story takes place on the island of Bougainville during its 1990 struggle for independence. I did not know anything about Bougainville prior to reading this novel but Jones paints a very surreal picture as far as the island itself. The word that came to mind while reading the novel is “dreamlike” even though there is a violent element running throughout the book, there are distinct moments of feeling as if you are in a dream or a nightmare depending on how you look at it.
At their first gathering, Mr. Watts takes out a copy of Great Expectations and begins to read passages to them. His intent is to introduce them to Mr. Dickens and that is just what he does. As the days pass and they get deeper into the book, Matilda, one of his pupils begins to talk about the book with her Mum back at their hut. Her Mum begins to question what is being taught to these kids and questions why specific parts of the book have not been removed.
I can’t say much more without giving some of the story away, but the story begins to examine what is fiction and what is not and how interwoven their lives are with the lives contained between the pages of Great Expectations. Lloyd does a fantastic job of leading you along and lulling you into a sense of calm, only to shake you up and create visuals that you just cannot get out of your mind.