Allison DeLauer's Reviews > A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
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's review
Mar 28, 2009

it was amazing
Read in March, 2009

I really enjoyed Richard Hughes, A High Wind in Jamaica. Best pirate book I’ve ever read. I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before. I almost wonder if the pre-teen girl Briony in Atonement is modeled after the child Emily in High Wind. If so, I prefer Emily’s character. Mostly because she isn’t compelled to spend a lifetime undoing her misdeeds – which I don’t believe was likely – to the extreme Briony did. (For the record, I also didn’t believe McEwan’s character would have been that unforgivable by her sister.) My favorite moment Atonement is when Briony notices her own hands. I tried to find it, but I couldn’t so I might have made it up entirely. In High Wind, the mental and emotional states that Hughes describes are realistically rendered. “And then an event did occur, to Emily, of considerable importance. She suddenly realized who she was…Once settled on her perch, she began examining the skin of her hands with the utmost care: for it was hers.”

Many similar scenes reminded me vividly of childhood – but he angles the lens weirdly enough– to make the reader recall what was once commonplace - as odd and savage. This savagery and gross misunderstandings about the nature of the world / self are always present in the child mind / reptilian brain before shame, manners, gratitude etc. arrive with time and experience.

And of course, savagery and the arrogance of our own perspectives is something we don’t ever outgrow. (Although, a conscious person does their best to mitigate these aspects of our nature.) There is something soothing to me about a book written this beautifully that details with precision the dark beauty of human behavior. It validates my preference for “and/but” instead of “either/ or”.

I don’t I recall a whole lot about Lord of the Flies – but I think this book kicks its ass. I remember a certain morality implicit it that book – and this book won’t offer that kind of consolation. There’s something in LOTF that implies that if the adults were on the island – none of the disturbing bits would have happened. Maybe not – I’d have to look at it again. What’s really great about Hughes’ story is that while it would seem that the pirates have agency over the children – really – it’s the other way around. The agency – and ultimately the villainy is with the wee ones. Isn’t there something to all baby animals being somewhat cute so we’re hesitant to kill them….?

High Wind satisfies my romantic predilections of a period drama in an exotic location– and yet offers something much more juicy than a sentimental romance: a good yarn, with surprising emotional layers that eerily resonate.

I spent the day thinking was it right, what happened to the pirates in the end, was Emily a “bad person”? And you just can’t go there. It all makes sense – as he’s described it – and the unfortunate repercussions are due to the fact that humans barge about with their own assumptions and tremendous needs blocking the view - and when folks aren’t capable or won’t put that aside, misunderstanding and confusion ensues. How lucky we are to have a narrator detail this particular story for us – or we would never have made out what *really* happened. Makes me wonder if some omniscient narrator would be so kind as to tell us our own stories…

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08/03 marked as: read

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