Sunday, 16 December 2007

A High Wind in Jamaica

I now seem to have reached the exalted heights of Commodore with my Seafaring challenge. Three books read, one of them a classic, and that classic is A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes.

Well, this wasn't precisely what I was expecting. My overall memory of this is of the film of the book which was frequent Sunday afternoon TV viewing when I was a child. It seemed a happy film of children mistakenly taken off by pirates, the captain of said pirates being played by Anthony Quinn. So, it was kind of surprising to find this book is quite different to that.

The plot concerns the Bas-Thornton family who live in Jamaica. The five children of this family run wild in the ruins of the sugar plantations until one day they experience a hurricane. The parents decide it's too dangerous for the children to live there any more and pack them off to England. The ship they're on is boarded by pirates somewhere off Cuba and the children mistakenly get carried away. What follows is a story of how the children acclimatise to life aboard ship and an entirely male crew, and what they have to do to survive.

I gather this was first published in 1929 and I would imagine it caused quite a stir. The story is told from the point of view of Emily, a ten year old Bas-Thornton. There is an older girl from another family with them, Margaret, who seems to be around thirteen to fourteen, and what happens to her is broadly hinted at but left to the imagination. This is no fairytale of *nice* children and their adventures. There is death and murder and Hughes' depiction of children is more akin to Golding's Lord of the Flies than to what I would call a normal view where children try to do the right thing. Here they are not completely self-aware and tend to do what they have to in order to survive. And some of that is quite chilling to read about, and told rather matter-of-factly, which makes it even more shocking. It's definitely a disturbing book but also very humorous in many places; you could call it a black comedy of errors. I liked it but had no idea what to make of it once I'd finished and am still, two days later, thinking about the implications of Hughes' story. But then... that's what good literature does, doesn't it? It makes you think and ponder and, ultimately, changes you somehow.


DesLily said...

This may sound horrid, but I am always "happy" when I can say that I don't think I'd read a particular it means my wish list doesn't keep growing! lol..

ohhh, glad to hear that you started a Mary Russell book! my favorite remains The Moor, but I think that's because I also loved the movie with Basil Rathbone..and also I think Mary's sense of humor is really on a roll in that one.. but there isn't one I've read so far that I haven't enjoyed! I hope you enjoy them as much !

Cath said...

That's okay, Pat, it isn't a book I would really recommend to people to be honest. It was interesting to read but won't feature in my top ten for this year.

I really think I'm going to love the Mary Russell series. I'm so hooked already!

Oh and I got Inkheart from the library today too so am quite excited about that.

DesLily said...

I can't wait for Inkdeath to be released in America so that I have an excuse (sometimes I need a push) to reread Inkheart and Inkspell lol..and the movie can't come fast enough to suit me!

Nicola said...

Hi. Your review made me think of Diary of a Provincial Lady (also published in 1929)where the book is discussed at Lady B.'s dinner party. They concude: a) it is quite a short book, b) they hated or alternatively adored it and c) that is Really Is exactly Like Children! By the way, I do like the brown/creamy-yellow colour scheme of your blog, easy on the eye. Regards. Nicola

Cath said...

Hi Nicola. Yep, that's about how I felt about this book. LOL! The colour scheme is one of the six or so available on Blogspot and my favourite. As you say, very easy on the eye. :-) Thanks for dropping by.