Monday, August 04, 2008

A High Wind in Jamaica

To prolong the pleasure of Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica which I was speeding though yesterday at a great clip, I paused to track down the Rebecca West review from which the description A hot draught of mad, primal fantasy and poetry on my copy's back cover was taken. And when my seach failed to uncover the source I decided that if I could wish any book into existence it would be a collection of West's book reviews. Why hasn't anyone already taken this endeavor upon their shoulders? I'll buy your book! I'll even pre-order it!

One good thing that came out of my seach, though: when I plugged in A High Wind in Jamaica's original title, The Innocent Voyage, I was brought back to a post of my own, three summers ago, when I quoted a New York Times reviewer during my E.C. Spykman Celebration who'd called Ted, Jane, Hubert and Edie Cares "probably the most uninhibited youngsters in fiction since Richard Hughes wrote The Innocent Voyage" more than a quarter century earlier. Why I didn't immediately go searching for Richard Hughes' book three summers ago is a mystery. I suppose I thought it would really be kind of innocent.

Clearly I have a lifelong love of uninhibited literary youngsters, and while I would prefer to live next door to the Cares children rather than the Bas-Thorntons if I were to have any say in the matter, I was quite happy to make their acquaintance in the pages of the book.

The Thornton crew is growing up uninhibitedly on the Ferndale estate outside St. Anne's following Emancipation in the West Indies:

It was kind of a paradise for English children to come to, whatever it might be for their parents: especially at that time, when no one lived in at all a wild way at home. Here one had to be a little ahead of the times: or decadent, whichever you like to call it. The difference between boys and girls, for instance, had to be left to look after itself. Long hair would have made the evening search for grass-ticks and nits interminable: Emily and Rachel had their hair cut short, and were allowed to do everything the boys did--to climb trees, swim, and trap animals and birds: they even had two pockets in their frocks.

The children are banished unwillingly from their version of Eden following a hurricane; they are to be taken to school in England on a ship captained by a man who "certainly looked the ideal Children's Captain," but by the end of Chapter Two will have declared the children murdered by pirates instead of merely abandoned to them through his own cowardice and incompetence.

This inversion of expectation as well as the tone of Hughes's writing is what makes this one such a treasure: Parents don't know their children best or really at all; authority figures are anything but, as are the notions of justice, truth, solace; babies are more animal than human.

And the fate of a snake-killing cat called Tabby will be of more lasting concern to the children than that of any member of their own tribe.


  1. Thanks for reminding me of--and tempting me with--this account of a book that keeps beckoning me from the shelves.

    And as to Rebecca West, I second your call for such a collection. She is so sharp!

  2. I think you'll like it, Anne. I wish I'd read it years ago.

  3. I adore this book! There's this one line about the youngest child where he says something like, "being a baby, she looked human - but, to be fair, not so human as many monkeys". It's stuck with me through many days in the monkeyhouse.

    Have you read anything else by him?

  4. No, but at this point I want to read everything he's written. I bought The Fox in the Attic at the same time I ordered this one (I love NYRB editions).

    How about you? (Hint, hint: I'm still mulling over what to put in a package to you.)

  5. I was able to mooch this book not long ago! I had o idea what it was about, only that it was a NYRB Classic. Now I want to read it badly!


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