2010: 50. A High Wind in Jamaica

“One of the fruits of Emancipation in the West Indian islands is the number of ruins, either attached to the houses that remain or within a stone’s throw of them: ruined slaves’ quarters, ruined sugar houses, ruined boiling houses; often ruined mansions that were too expensive to maintain.”

A High Wind in Jamaica, Richard Hughes

        This is a totally random book, one that I had never heard of before attempting the ML list, and one that, while pretty entertaining, seems baffling to me in its placement on said list.*  But, whatever.  The book itself is a strange but highly enjoyable read, and I’d have never read it if it weren’t for the list, so my quest to read all these novels seems to be paying off at least to some extent.

       The novel starts in Jamaica, at a crumbling plantation in the 1840s.  After a natural disaster, the English couple living there decides to send their children back to England.  All well and good, except the children are taken by a pirate ship, and the rest of the novel is the story of the children’s new life on the pirate ship.  What makes it interesting is that this is not really an adventure story, but is rather the story of the wildness and bizarreness of childhood - how the children naturally accept their new situation and deal with it.  Hughes makes their behavior, while not at all what you’d expect to see in a novel, completely plausible, in a blackly comic way, and manages to make the children both real and alien from adults.  I don’t know - I don’t see my child in these book children, but they seem plausible too.  

    *Seriously - if its the comic aspect of the novel that makes it worthwhile, why is there nothing by Wodehouse? Isn’t the Code of the Woosters worth on High Wind in Jamaica? Or Tobacco Road?  If it’s the treatment of children  - which is unusual, as it treats them more like real children than the strange mini-adults, or cloyingly cute figures we often get in fiction, well, I guess I see that, but really, are these children more real than Jem, Scout, and Dill? Oh Modern Library list - as I plumb your depths you seem more and more strange to me.


Date/Place Completed:  July 2010; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction, Modern Library Top 100

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017