Ted's Reviews > A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
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it was amazing
bookshelves: lit-british, read-in-20s, classics, beach-fun-fiction, reviews-liked
Read 2 times. Last read February 20, 2016 to March 10, 2016.

I've rated this book a five before. Now a decades-later second reading, just finished. I would rate it higher, but I can't find the extra stars.



The NYRB cover illustration is a small segment of Storm Gathers by Henry Darger.
(view spoiler)


This 1929 novel is the masterpiece of the British author Richard Hughes (1900-1976). He wrote other works, several of which, like this one, have been reprinted in recent years by NYRB. But High Wind in Jamaica (also called Innocent Voyage) has been rated on GR by more than twenty times the number of readers as any of these other works. I first became aware of the novel forty or fifty years ago, from my old copy of Good Reading, in which it is described as “a revealing study of the separate world of childhood.”

The story begins in Jamaica sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century. Slavery having been outlawed in 1838 (the Emancipation), the sugar plantations have crumbled into disuse, and more and more of the buildings associated with them have fallen into ruins. One of the former estates, Ferndale, is now occupied by a British family, the Bas-Thorntons, who have come out from England a few years previously.

The children of the family are John, Emily, Edward, Rachel and Laura. The latter three are the “Liddlies” in the family; Laura the youngest is four. John is the oldest, and can still vaguely remember England.
What he remembered was sitting at the top of a flight of stairs, which was fenced off from him by a little gate, playing with a red toy milk-cart: and he knew, without having to look, that in the room on the left baby Emily was lying in her cot. Emily said she could remember something which sounded like a Prospect of the Backs of some Brick Houses at Richmond: but she might have invented it. The others had been born in the Island – Edward only just.


The “high wind” of the title is a hurricane, which blows the top off the old mansion in which the Bas-Thornton family live (it blows down the whole thing, in fact – the top was only the first to go). As they begin rebuilding, the parents decide that the children really must be returned to England, for education among other reasons. Thus the High Wind precipitates the Innocent Voyage. (The Bas-Thornton children are joined on the voyage back to England by two other children from a nearby estate – Margaret, thirteen, and her younger brother Harry, who runs with the Liddlies.) A bit of a (view spoiler))

Only a few pages into the story the reader is introduced to the real locale of the adventure, the children’s inner reality. Emily, the main child character, loves to catch green grass-lizards.
Her room was full of these and other pets, some alive, others probably dead. She also had tame faeries, and a familiar, or oracle, the White Mouse with an Elastic Tail, who was always ready to settle any point in question, and whose rule was a rule of iron – especially over Rachel, Edward, and Laura … To Emily, his interpreter, he allowed, of course, certain privileges: and with John, he quite wisely did not interfere.

He was omnipresent: the faeries were more localized, living in a small hole in the hill guarded by two dagger-plants.


Hughes has constructed this tale to tell the reader how the inner world of children is so immensely different from the outer world of adult reality. Now this is a novel, so we needn’t worry about whether this insight about child psychology is correct or not. To me it seems awfully persuasive. Over and over he relates an event in the normal way of describing it – then continues, “but to the children …”, and describes how they, or each of them in turn, interprets what they have seen and heard as something that an adult would dismiss as stupid, or fantastical.

Thus, the interactions of the children and the adults in the story form a winding series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The tragic effects of these mistaken conclusions and assumptions on the part of both children and adults are the subject of this magnificent novel.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
December 19, 2011 – Shelved
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: lit-british
January 25, 2012 – Shelved as: read-in-20s
March 12, 2012 – Shelved as: classics
July 6, 2013 – Shelved as: beach-fun-fiction
February 20, 2016 – Started Reading
February 20, 2016 –
page 55
19.71% "If it would have surprised the mother, it would undoubtedly have surprised the children also to be told how little their parents meant to them...the Thornton children had loved Tabby first and foremost in all the world, some of each other second, and hardly noticed their mother's existence more than once a week. Their father they loved a little more: partly owing to the ceremony of riding home on his stirrups."
February 21, 2016 –
page 106
37.99% "Captain Jonsen had his own idea of how to enliven a parochial bazaar that is proving a frost. He went on board, and mixed several gallons of that potion known as Hangman's Blood (compounded of rum, gin, brandy, and porter). Innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so, once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort."
March 10, 2016 –
page 179
64.16% "Being nearly four years old, Laura was certainly a child: and children are human(if one allows the term a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies of course are not human, they are animals...babies have minds which work in terms and categories of their own. How then can one describe the inside of Laura, where the child-mind lived in the midst of the baby-mind, like a Fascist in Rome?"
March 10, 2016 – Finished Reading
March 11, 2016 – Shelved as: reviews-liked

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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message 1: by Teresa (new)

Teresa This sounds like my kind of book, Ted. Thanks for the review.


message 2: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Teresa wrote: "This sounds like my kind of book, Ted. Thanks for the review."

I think you would love it, Teresa.


message 3: by Matt (last edited Mar 10, 2016 09:14PM) (new) - added it

Matt Have you also read William Golding's Lord of the Flies? There are quite a few people who think this, LotF, is a rip-off of A High Wind in Jamaica, one of them being Truman Capote. See this quote by him:
https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/...


message 4: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Matt wrote: "Have you also read William Golding's Lord of the Flies? There are quite a few people who think this, LotF, is a rip-off of A High Wind in Jamaica, one of them being Truman Capote. See t..."

I thought of Lord of the Flies when I read it this time, Matt. I can see how Capote might advance that idea. But they are very different novels, and perhaps I would only go so far as to admit that Golding might have got part of his premise from this novel. I personally think this novel is much better, I assume Capote does too.


Lark Benobi One of my all-time favorites. Thanks for the review.


message 6: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted poingu wrote: "One of my all-time favorites. Thanks for the review."

You're most welcome, poingu. I'm really glad I revisited this book, I've been wanting to read it again for a few years.


message 7: by Matt (new) - added it

Matt I'm going to check out the High Wind and compare the two books. What also bothers me about Golding is that he apparently took real boys for social experiments. See my review:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 8: by Ted (last edited Mar 10, 2016 09:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Matt wrote: "I'm going to check out the High Wind and compare the two books. What also bothers me about Golding is that he apparently took real boys for social experiments. See my review:
https://www.goodreads...."


I was surprised to learn a few years ago that Golding had written much more that just Lord of the Flies. He wrote (besides much other stuff) a three part novel called To the Ends of the Earth, which I read and enjoyed quite a bit, Nothing like LotF.

Speaking of strange stuff, check out the spoiler that's now at the top of the review, and explore Darger further on WIki. There's a strange tale!


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Great review, Ted. Added.


message 10: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Thanks, Sidharth. This is the kind of book that's really fun to review here, because it's not real well known any more.


message 11: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran Fascinating premiss. Would love to read this one. Thanks for the review, Ted!


message 12: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Jibran wrote: "Fascinating premiss. Would love to read this one. Thanks for the review, Ted!"

Thanks yourself, Jibran.


message 13: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran Also, Storm Gathers' 15000+ page manuscript sounds incredible. I'm wondering if it's been published, in parts? Or are there any plans afoot for the same?


message 14: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted That would be quite an undertaking, wouldn't it? especially if it were illustrated with hundreds of his watercolors.

There are a surprising number of books that come up here on GR if you put his name in the search box. I think most are books about him & his art, there may be one that includes excerpts from his writings.


message 15: by Jibran (new) - added it

Jibran Yes it's enormous. 15k pages of manuscript! Perhaps someone can hammer out an abridged version, assuming it's logically possible. But even a third will run into multiple thousand pages.


message 16: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope After such a strong and well articulated support for a book, how can I not add it?

Thank you, Ted, for this, for did not know about this book.


message 17: by Dolors (last edited Mar 11, 2016 01:16AM) (new) - added it

Dolors Ted, I had never heard of neither book nor author and your stupendous review assures that I will get a copy because it brings me nostalgic vibes like Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden does every time I think about it...


message 18: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes I've had this book on my shelf for years, and your review is going to make me pull it off the shelf and onto my "next month" stack. It has always sounded appealing to me; thanks for the nudge.


The Just-About-Cocky Ms M It's always serendipitous when a re-read of a favorite book from past decades turns out to be an even better experience--so often the opposite is true.

I read High Wind decades ago, and now I'm inspired to read it again, without worries that it won't pass the test of time.

Thanks much, Ted!


message 20: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted The Just-About-Average Ms M wrote: "It's always serendipitous when a re-read of a favorite book from past decades turns out to be an even better experience--so often the opposite is true.

I read High Wind decades ago, and now I'm in..."


Yes, I certainly found no let-down. Actually about the only thing of consequence that I had remembered pretty accurately was the ending, but even that memory didn't spoil the book. (view spoiler)

(I don't think that comment's actually a spoiler, but some might find it so.)


message 21: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Diane wrote: "I've had this book on my shelf for years, and your review is going to make me pull it off the shelf and onto my "next month" stack. It has always sounded appealing to me; thanks for the nudge."

Hi Diane! I do hope you're not disappointed. It's also a pretty fast read.


message 22: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Dolors wrote: "Ted, I had never heard of neither book nor author and your stupendous review assures that I will get a copy because it brings me nostalgic vibes like Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden..."

Thanks, Dolors! Say, I have that book on my Maybe shelf. Is it a book that one could enjoy a first read of when they're long past childhood?


message 23: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Kalliope wrote: "After such a strong and well articulated support for a book, how can I not add it?

Thank you, Ted, for this, for did not know about this book."


Glad you enjoyed the review, Kalliope. When you get a chance to read it, i do hope your reaction is similar to mine.


The Just-About-Cocky Ms M Ted, in my opinion, The Secret Garden is timeless; I re-read it every ten years. One of the most magical of books, I think, and one you can enjoy for the first time as an adult of any age.


message 25: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted The Just-About-Average Ms M wrote: "Ted, in my opinion, The Secret Garden is timeless; I re-read it every ten years. One of the most magical of books, I think, and one you can enjoy for the first time as an adult of any age."

Thanks! I'll keep considering it then. Of course the reason that weighted shelf is called "maybe" is that I've already got several hundred books waiting to be read. 8(


message 26: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich GREAT review! I've been meaning to read this for years, now I'm adding it to the top of the pile! Also, have you ever seen the documentary about H.Darger? Great stuff.


message 27: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted s.penkevich wrote: "GREAT review! I've been meaning to read this for years, now I'm adding it to the top of the pile! Also, have you ever seen the documentary about H.Darger? Great stuff."

I've not seen the documentary, but vaguely know about it, s.penk. There does seem to be quite a bit of info about him floating about. My mind sort of diffuses in questions and wonderings about someone like that, their very existence seems to make a blatant statement about something-or-other but I can't lasso it in to look at it, just left blank.

Hope you enjoy the read. There are many things about it I should have hinted at but dropped the ball I'm afraid. Nothing to put anyone off, though, just the contrary. Ah well.


message 28: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Sabah wrote: "Outstanding review, Ted and thank you. I enjoyed reading this so much and what an absolutely fabulous revelation.

When I realised it was the fertility of different children's imagination I sudden..."


Thank you for such a nice comment, Sabah! Your middle paragraph is a wonderful capturing of what the book is about. I believe you'll love the story.


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