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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The strangest blend of literary qualities: A High Wind in Jamaica

Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica is perhaps the strangest blend of literary qualities I've ever encountered in a novel, including some absolutely stunningly beautiful descriptions - the ruins of the old sugar mills in Jamaica described in the first chapter, some beautiful passages about life aboard a sailing ship cutting through the dark water on a quiet starry night, many others - a really good adventure story - children held captive by Caribbean pirates! - and an odd psychological examination of the behavior of children. Although, as I've previously posted, it's almost unfathomable how little the children seem to care about or think about their parents, the home they've left behind, their fate, or even their oldest sibling who has just disappeared from their lives, Hughes does get at the odd way in which they bond with their captors and the consequences of this identification. The book reaches its crisis point when Emily stabs a man to death (and her older [?] sister gets the blame and gets tossed overboard, although by good fortune recovered and brought back on deck). After this event, the children seem to go literally insane, confused and misbehaving in very odd ways - the whole equilibrium destroyed. The captain figures out a plan to waylay a passing steamer, tell them that they'd rescued the children, and ask them to bring the children to safe harbor - the children pledge to never tell the truth. There are a couple of problems here: Emily will never forget that she killed a man, this will haunt her forever. And it will be hard to explain the death of the oldest child, John. We learn that, sure enough, E breaks the promise and rats out the pirates - and she was the one who bonded most closely to them, emulating their behavior and flirting disconcertingly with the captain. It does make me wonder why the pirates took the children in the first place - perhaps they'd planned to sell them into slavery (it didn't work) but was that worth the risk?

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