A High Wind in Jamaica

by Richard Hughes

Fearing that Jamaica is too wild a place to raise their five children, a British couple believes they are doing the right thing by shipping them back unaccompanied to England. But en route the children are abducted by pirates. And if that isn't bizarre enough, the tale only gets weirder from there. The inner lives of the children are given as much narrative weight as the strange series of events that befall them in actuality. Even readers are left asking, very much like the adult characters by the book's end, "O.K., what really went on here?"

The world has gone awry in this fanciful yet somewhat haunting tale by Richard Hughes. This book's got it all. You want man against nature? How about children trapped aboard a pirate ship, surrounded by water, who play an iron-fisted game in which they very convincingly make believe that most of the ship's deck is also water. Man against man? A little girl bites the finger of a sea captain who is making a drunken advance on her. Then each is too embarrassed by her or his own behavior to even look at the other subsequently. How about nature against nature? A lion and a tiger, circus animals, are forcibly set upon one another. The beasts are reluctant, seasick, and must be dumped out of their cages. Still nothing really happens. I could go on and on, but some of the examples would spoil the plot—things happen that you wouldn't believe!

A High Wind in Jamaica is: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie meets any Evelyn Waugh comedic novel. There are great stretches of British irony, but they're set against the trenchant mysteries of childhood. Talk about feeling seasick! How is it that those two things go together? They don't, really. Yet the book works. It's weird...just plain weird (like nothing I've ever read before)...but it works O.K. Richard Hughes could be the love child of Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark. (Except for the fact that Waugh was somewhat gay, and all three are roughly contemporaries—there goes that theory.)