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.
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.