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A High Wind in Jamaica Paperback – September 30, 1999
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Irony finds a happy home indeed in the book's mixture of the macabre and the adorable. The baby girl, Rachel, "could even sum up maternal feelings for a marline-spike, and would sit up aloft rocking it in her arms and crooning. The sailors avoided walking underneath: for such an infant, if dropped from a height, will find its way through the thickest skull (an accident which sometimes befalls unpopular captains)." In that "such an infant" lies a world of mordant wit. In fact, throughout, Hughes's wildly eccentric punctuation and startling syntax make just the right verbal vehicle for this dark-hearted pirate story for grownups.
Hughes enjoys some coy riffing on the child mind, as with this description of the way Emily handles an uncomfortable social situation: "Much the best way of escaping from an embarrassing rencontre, when to walk away would be an impossible strain on the nerves, is to retire in a series of somersaults. Emily immediately started turning head over heels up the deck." Even so, Hughes never sentimentalizes his subject: "Babies of course are not human--they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes." Children, as a race, are given rough treatment: "their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact)." That madness is here isolated, prodded, and poked to chilling effect. But Hughes never loses sight of his ultimate objective: A High Wind in Jamaica is, above all, a cracking good yarn. --Claire Dederer
"This brilliant, gorgeously written, highly entertaining, and apparently light-hearted idyll quickly reveals its true nature as a powerful and profoundly disquieting meditation on the meaning of loyalty and betrayal, innocence and corruption, truth and deception."
— Francine Prose, Elle
"During one snowy day, I read the whole book in one gulp. It was remarkable, tiny, crazy. I felt just like I did as a kid."
— Andrew Sean Greer, All Things Considered, NPR
"A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes is like those books you used to read under the covers with a flashlight, only infinitely more delicious and macabre."
— Andrew Sean Greer, All Things Considered, NPR
“Cross a wacky seafaring adventure--Conrad gone awry via inept piracy--with an exploration of the consciousness of a child as radical and insightful as that provided by Henry James in What Maisie Knew, and you have A High Wind In Jamaica by Richard Hughes....By turns funny, ironic, and brutally sad, this is a complex and astonishing novel."—Sue Miller, Barnes and Noble Review
Top Customer Reviews
Others have made a comparison between this book and "Lord of the Flies," both because of their stories of children torn apart from the moorings of civilization, and for their undercurrent emotion of malevolence, darkness, and evil. To my mind, Hughes' intent is broader than that, and I actually prefer "High Wind" to its rival. Hughes is also exploring a more general theme of alienation and the kind of moral emptiness that accompanies it: child vs. adult, plantation owners vs. slaves, the wild of Jamaica vs. the civilized form of the British Empire, each unknowing and thus cruel to the other.
The ending is actually shocking, a perfect end to this highly unconventional but perfectly-pitched book. One of my "best ever" novels.
It is difficult to sum up exactly what is going on throughout the book, event leading to action leading to betrayal leading to another fun game. In the end the book might even be read as a comedy--that of a pessimist attacking both human nature and the world--and I must admit that throughout several of the more harrowing scenes I found myself laughing in self-defense.
Great, great stuff, beautifully written and compelling. I wouldn't presume to guess how any one individual might take it and that, to me, the unexpectedness of the whole thing, is what constitutes some of the greatest masterpieces. Very highly recommended--
I'd never heard of "A High Wind in Jamaica," and had a hell of a time trying to find it---I ended up in the basement of a branch of my public library (I guess I shouldn't be endorsing the use of libraries on Amazon's site, but I can't afford to buy every book I want to read---sorry, Amazon). Once I started it, I couldn't put it down.
I'm always wishing I could find books like the ones it seems are only written for children. Kids get great books---full of adventure and fantasy and harrowing escapes, etc. It always sounds fun to go back and read books that enthralled me as a kid so I can recapture the same feelings that filled me then. But it never works. I can never get into kids' books in the same way, no matter how hard I try.
"A High Wind in Jamaica" is like a children's book written for adults. It's got all the right elements: tropical locations, a harrowing storm, pirates, murder. But the psychological element Richard Hughes gives to the story adds a dark, brutal dimension that children's books are often missing altogether or only skate briefly by.
This novel has a wonderful way of seeing events through the eyes of a child, and it functions as a sort of warning not to forget that children, though maybe possessing less life experience than adults, are capable of feeling the same emotions and, more importantly, have the potential to be just as brutal. In fact, Hughes suggests that children may actually be more brutal, since they have less of a knowledge base from which to understand and weigh consequences.
I don't want to make this book sound over burdened with rhetoric and psychobabble, however. It's a fast-paced, tense novel, with a menacing tone constantly present just under the surface. Hughes creates beautiful images of Jamaica in the book's early chapters, and paints a vivid picture of life at sea later on.
If I actually had any money, I would buy the rights to this book, because it would make a great movie.