Review of A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

First read: 6/2000
Reviewed on: 6/12/2000
Click here to buy it

I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

When I first started this book, I was a little bit

Pirates!  Pirates!   Pirates!

Shush!  Not yet.
Sorry.  Now, as I was saying, when I first started this book, I was a little bit apprehensive.  The first couple of

Pirates!  Heewacko!   Fucking Pirates!

I said, "Not yet."  Now:   When I first started this book, I was a little bit apprehensive.  The first couple of paragraphs were clearly Literature, and I was in the mood for some literature, or even something entertaining.  I was not wrong, either.  This is Literature.   There are long, descriptive paragraphs and sentences that could be omitted without destroying the plot.  I can't say I hate that sort of thing, but cruel experience has taught me that it does not bode well.  I can't count how many descriptions I've read of rivers, of houses, and of mountains that wind up having nothing to do with the upcoming story.  When I hear of a house in the suburbs, it doesn't matter WHAT the author describes, I'm going to picture my parent's house in Northbrook, so get on with the plot.

Here's where the nice surprise happened:  I LOVED Hughes' descriptions.  Part of the reason was that he wrote them well.  But the main reason was that he described interesting things.  There were no big discourses on how a dining-room chair looked.  Instead he talked about a village where huge mansions had been abandoned for years, where dining rooms were taken over by goats and children, where old masters had starved to death when the servants stopped bringing them food.  And it didn't stop there -

pirate.gif (4337 bytes)

Cut it out!  I promise you that you will get your chance.
It didn't stop there.  This book was full off fascinating things I'd never seen before, and I welcomed Hughes' ability to make them seem real.  But the descriptions were not the only reason this book was great.  Richard Hughes is the first Literature author I've read that understands children.  Lewis Carroll's children think exactly like us, only they are perfect.  Golding's Lord of the Flies children become savages, but they still think like adults with small bodies.  These children are real.  Their memories work the way real children's memories work.  (Did mine work that way?  I don't remember)   There are truths that I remember noticing when I was four, that I've never seen in print until now, like (p 120)

There is a period in the relations of children with any new grown-up in charge of them, the period between first acquaintance and the first reproof, which can only be compared to the primordial innocence of Eden.  Once a reproof has been administered, this can never be recovered again.

This was a reality of my life when I was a child (and still sometimes is, with me in the other role).  This book is filled with such true ideas about children's lives.  One more that I related to:  Edward and Harry are

pretending to be Pirates!   Arrrrr!

pretending to be fighting imaginary enemies, and they shout as they go into battle (p155):

"I am armed with a sword and a pistol!" chanted Edward.
"And I am armed with a key and a half a whist-le!" chanted the more literal Harry.

My GOD, I used to be surrounded by children like Harry when I was growing up.

But this book isn't just great because of the characters (but oh boy, they are great).  It also has one of the most wonderful, twisty plots you could ask for.  I never knew what was going to come next, and after whatever came next came, I would never be able to guess what the reaction of the children would be.  But, in retrospect, everything was perfectly realistic and shouldn't have happened any way other than it did.  All writers of Fine Literature should read this book.  Chapter 1:  An earthquake.  Chapter 2:  A huge storm.  And then, in chapter 3...

In chapter 3...  I will let my inner child take over at this point.... 

In chapter 3....  (Your turn, DJ.  Go ape:)

Oh, sorry.  I was daydreaming.  You were saying?

In chapter 3...

Oh.  PIRATES!  Yo ho ho!  I'm sorry, after all this buildup my glee seems forced.  Carry on.

Well, my inner child was certainly excited when we got to the pirates.  I had no idea this was going to be a book with pirates in it.  I just grinned ear to ear.  Here is a book with a boring-ass title, and it has pirates in it!  And they weren't somber, depressing pirates either.  They were realistic and complex, but still exciting and wonderful.  And they way the kids reacted to them...  Well I won't tell you.  Suffice to say that it was absolutely enthralling, and then stuff kept happening, and then more stuff happened and then there was danger and a murder and happy pirates and angry pirates and broad philosophical points and gunpowder and deception and sexual tension and PIRATES and all sorts of things.

...and this was still Literature.  Clearly.  There is a lot to this book.  It says a lot about the human condition.  It says things about children and adults and how they relate.  True things.  And there are pirates.  I ask you, what the hell more could you want in a book?

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hits since Jun 12, 2000