A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica

Book - 1999
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Richard Hughes's celebrated short novel is a masterpiece of concentrated narrative. Its dreamlike action begins among the decayed plantation houses and overwhelming natural abundance of late nineteenth-century Jamaica, before moving out onto the high seas, as Hughes tells the story of a group of children thrown upon the mercy of a crew of down-at-the-heel pirates. A tale of seduction and betrayal, of accommodation and manipulation, of weird humor and unforeseen violence, this classic of twentieth-century literature is above all an extraordinary reckoning with the secret reasons and otherworldly realities of childhood.
Publisher: New York : New York Review Books, 1999
ISBN: 9780940322158
0940322153
Branch Call Number: FIC HUGHES 1999
Characteristics: 279 pages ; 21 cm

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One of the strangest and most macabre voyages sets sail when a group of children are left to the mercy of a band of murderous privateers. Or is it the other way round? A long overdue pirates' eye view of just how scary children can be!


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CALS_Lee Jul 07, 2020

This somewhat chilling examination of children and of human nature was first published in 1929 and republished decades later as the first entry in the New York Review Books classics imprint. Hughes' debut novel, it tells the story of seven British children, ages about 13 to 3, whose ship is captured by pirates around the waters of Cuba; transported to the pirate ship as part of an effort to terrorize the ship's captain, the pirates become accidental kidnappers when they don't notice the ship fleeing from them in the night. At first indifferent to and annoyed by the presence of the children, the pirates discover the children to be alien creatures who provoke conflicting emotions: fondness, desire, and finally fear, while the children themselves adapt easily and joyously to life aboard a pirate ship.

The boundary between childhood and adulthood is presented as a yawning chasm with mutual incomprehension. The children have not yet learned to be quite "human", a comprehensive transformation which comes with adulthood. Their minds and nature are impenetrable to adults: "I would rather extract information from the devil himself than from a child," a lawyer at the end of the book confesses. Some of the pirates feel affection for the children, these strange creatures, but the difference in kind between them can provoke disturbing emotions as well.

The pirates are stupefied by what happens when they capture another vessel and transport its captain to their ship for safekeeping while they sack it. Emily, seeing this captain straining to reach a knife with which to cut himself loose, grabs the knife herself and in a frenzy stabs and slashes him to death. The pirates return from the captured vessel to find the body in a pool of blood and are gobsmacked. But the children have already displayed an apparent cold indifference to death - Emily's 10 year old brother John had broken his neck in an accidental fall while they were with the pirates, and been promptly forgotten about by all.

After rescue, Emily, with what amount of conscious calculation is left unspecified, leaves the impression that Jonsen murdered that captain, in a dramatic courtroom scene. Jonsen is sentenced to death for the murder, while in the novel's final scene, Emily is integrated into a new classroom, while Hughes writes of the little murderer, with a note of ominousness, that "perhaps God could have picked out from among them which was Emily: but I am sure that I could not."

This novel bears obvious parallels with the later novel Lord of the Flies, and I'm left wondering about its portrayal of human nature in childhood. There's an actual real life Lord of the Flies type situation that I read a news story about recently, and happily the children in real life did not become amoral wild things who discard civilization, but rather cooperated and lived peaceably until rescue. Still, it's true that the brains of children are still developing and maturing past their teenage years, so the gulf between childhood and adulthood is real enough, and children surely don't grasp the concepts of consequences and permanence like adults do. There will always be room to explore the difference, and the similarities.

u
uncommonreader
Oct 07, 2019

The novel opens after the end of the slave trade in Jamaica amid ruined mansions and slave quarters with a family of innocent but almost feral children. The children are sent to England and experience many adventures including capture by pirates. The book is not about Jamaica but rather the separate worlds of adults and children and the loss of innocence. A classic.

IndyPL_SteveB May 21, 2019

This 1929 classic novel is in turns humorous, cynical, horrifying, ironic, violent, adventurous, and amoral, but always observant and surprising. The Bas-Thornton family is English but live among the ruins of former sugar plantations in Jamaica. The children run bare footed and swim naked and appear to have only a vague and confused set of morals. After a hurricane destroys their home, their parents determine that the children should be sent back to England for their safety. But on the voyage, their ship is captured by an odd set of pirates and the children are sort of kidnapped and taken on board the pirate ship.

This is NOT a children’s book. The tone of the book is unusual in the extreme and was highly controversial when the book was published. The children are not particularly concerned about the health and safety of *anyone* else, including their parents, or other adults. Eventually, we realize the children aren’t even much connected *to each other* in any serious way. At every turn the book overturns your expectations as to what will happen. This is, in the long run, a novel about childhood; but it is a remarkably different childhood than you are likely to read about in any other book except perhaps *Lord of the Flies,* which it supposedly influenced.

g
griddling
Feb 14, 2019

The inner life of children is not sweet but strange and amoral. This book is both funny and very disturbing. The writing is beautiful, the setting is exotic and preconceptions are very quickly turned on their heads.

n
newf_lover
Dec 17, 2018

This was a very unusual book. I was stunned by the high ratings. Too strange for me, even though I realize it was written about 100 years ago. I don’t know how it made it on a list of 100 top books, but like one other reviewer, the forward of the book about spooked me out of reading it. I thought it was unsettling.

l
lukasevansherman
Dec 10, 2018

What cruelty to animals? (see below) One of the Modern Library's best books of the 20th century. Sometimes compared to "Lord of the Flies," but other than the kids in distress theme, it has very little on common with Golding's classic.

a
athena14
Oct 16, 2018

I read the introduction and realized that this is not a book for me. Cruelty to animals disgusts me.

w
wyenotgo
Apr 18, 2018

Some have likened this book to a bit of Peter Pan mixed in with Lord of the Flies. Certainly, there's a never-never aura to it and the prominent role of Emily might remind one of Wendy. But all that is quite superficial. Reference to Lord of the Flies Has a good deal more validity, but still somewhat misses the point. What we have here is first and foremost a writer who manages to immerse himself in the mobile minds of children to a remarkable degree. The child's awareness of events; her interpretation of the relative importance and meaning of those events; a child's perception that is often completely at odds with that of an adult beholding the same occurrences: grasping all of that and putting it into coherent words is surely quite a feat.
As for the story itself, it's a rambling one and ultimately of little consequence. Hughes strikes me as not a very good story teller; actions are abrupt, sometimes disjointed and far from convincing. Rather, the true substance of this book lies in its exploration of the personalities, both child and adult and their state of mind. In the end, I found it a bit creepy, which is not what I expected.

s
SteveDudley
Nov 16, 2017

Good book, but creepy. Quite dark. Disney meets Stephen King.

m
macierules
Dec 06, 2012

Written in 1929 - written about childhood but not for children. This book is on the Modern Library's List of top 100 novels.

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whiteshadow13 Jun 15, 2012

whiteshadow13 thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

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