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Ships in bay

High Wind in Jamaica and Holmes

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Well, this wasn't precisely what I was expecting. My overriding memory of A High Wind in Jamaica is of the 1960s film of the book which was frequent Sunday afternoon TV viewing when I was a teenager. It seemed a happy film of children mistakenly taken off by pirates, the captain of said pirates being played by Anthony Quinn. So, it was kind of surprising to find this book is quite different to that.

The plot concerns the Bas-Thornton family who live in Jamaica. The five children of this family run wild in the ruins of the sugar plantations until one day they experience a hurricane. The parents decide it's too dangerous for the children to live there any more and pack them off to England. The ship they're on is boarded by pirates somewhere off Cuba and the children mistakenly get carried away. What follows is a story of how the children acclimatise to life aboard ship and an entirely male crew, and what they have to do to survive.

I gather this was first published in 1929 and I would imagine it caused quite a stir. The story is told from the point of view of Emily, a ten year old Bas-Thornton. There is an older girl from another family with them, Margaret, who seems to be around thirteen to fourteen, and what happens to her is broadly hinted at but left to the imagination. This is no fairytale of *nice* children and their adventures. There is death and murder and Hughes' depiction of children is more akin to Golding's Lord of the Flies than to what I would call a normal view where children try to do The Right Thing. Here they are not completely self-aware and tend to do what they have to in order to survive. And some of that is quite chilling to read about, and told rather matter-of-factly, which makes it even more shocking. It's definitely a disturbing book but also very humorous in many places; you could call it a black comedy of errors. I liked it but had no idea what to make of it once I'd finished and am still, two days later, thinking about the implications of Hughes' story. But then... that's what good literature does, doesn't it? It makes you think and ponder and, ultimately, changes you somehow.

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Finished this one at last. It's been absolutely brilliant reading this in a relaxed manner over the past few weeks, especially as I seem to be in a Sherlock Holmes sort of mood. ITV3 have been showing various of the Jeremy Brett series for weeks so it's been a nice tie-in with reading the stories. Just a few days after reading The Speckled Band, for instance, they showed that one, so it was interesting to compare the two. (I thought it was very faithful to the original.)

Of course some were more familiar than others. A few such as, The Engineer's Thumb (my favourite I think), The Copper Beeches and The Beryl Coronet were almost unknown to me and thus I probably enjoyed them more than the more familiar like The Red Headed League or The Man with the Twisted Lip (though I do love that one too).

A good anthology anyway. I have A Study in Scarlett on the library tbr pile and have just started the first Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book by Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. So the Sherlock Holmes theme continues and will continue into 2008 as I try to get hold of more of the original Holmes books.


Oh, boy. It's been so long since I read either of these, I have only vague recollections as to plot.

Like you, I saw the film version of A High Wind in Jamaica first, and read the book later. I remember mostly the little girl scaring the superstitious pirates by putting a coat on backwards and saying "I'm a duppy; duppies have their heads on backwards." Also, how the men struggle to prevent "spoiling" the older girl, which they reckon will render her less valuable as a ransom object. Other than that, I don't remember much. Just that it had a fairly grim tone over all.

While I read a lot of the Sherlock Holmes stories as a girl, I doubt I read anywhere near all of them. Some of the titles don't sound familiar, even, although A Study in Scarlet and The Red Headed League are among those that made a big impression on me. Having seen a number of Holmeses on screen, and as much as I love Basil Rathbone, my favorite is Jeremy Brett. He may have hated the role after awhile, but it was fascinating to see him play Holmes - maybe because he hated it. It gave his rendition such an edge.

Anyway, Happy Reading!
See, that's how your memory can deceive you because I don't remember anything grim about it at all. But then I must have been watching it in my early teens and that's more years ago than I care to think about. It would be very interesting to see it again now and form an opinion but it never seems to show up in the TV schedules.

Yes, my favourite Holmes is Jeremy Brett too, even though I'm old enough to remember the Rathbone movies pretty well, and loved those too - particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was odd how some of the stories were completely new. I'm assuming those are one they don't repeat much on the TV and that I may never have read.
If you watch the movie now, I wonder if you'd think of it differently? I always thought it was rather... hm... obvious that the Captain loved Emily, and Emily loved him. The end of the movie was horrible to watch, the look in her eyes....

The book was disturbing, wasn't it?
I'm sure I would find the movie very different now. I checked and saw it was made in 1965 which surprised me as I though it was older than that. So I must have been a young teen when I first saw it and maybe too young to draw all the inferences that should be drawn.

The book was quite disturbing, yes. Several things really shocked me and the way the father decides at the end that he is afraid of his daughter without really knowing why. I'm really glad I've read it - I like things that make you think.

I meant to ask... what are you reading at the moment?

Edited at 2007-12-18 11:24 am (UTC)
I found the book much darker than the movie, quite so.

If you do watch the movie again, I'd be interested in knowing what your thoughts are on it. The funny thing is, I had been thinking of the movie again when you posted you'd read the book. It was quite a surprise. :)

I'm currently reading this:


about half through.

I got books 3 and 4 of a set of books at the last convention I went to, that I'm enjoying quite a lot (this is book one, I bought the other two after I'd gone home):