Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A High Wind in Jamaica

A High Wind in JamaicaA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

Like The Once and Future King and The Secret of Santa Vittoria, A High Wind in Jamaica straddles the disparate worlds of literature and entertainment, but it's darker than either of those other books--somewhat less malevolent than Lord of the Flies maybe, but mordant in a way that Lord of the Flies isn't because of the special skill with which Richard Hughes fixes reality on his imaginative screen. Hughes is a master realist like Christopher Isherwood. He had a whole litter of his own children eventually, but not until after he made this fine study of the mechanics of childhood imagination. Perhaps not being a parent he could play the naturalist even better, could watch the amoral clockworks of that imagination amorally like a naturalist watching a lion tear up a springbok by a baobab tree. The neatest trick is that he sees the children's imaginings and cognitive failings from without so that the narration itself is never for a moment mired in confused imaginings. Dramatic irony galore--we see what the children do not: a real world whose crass indifference to children is readily matched only by the children's tyrannical indifference to reality. A menagerie of animals fills up the book--a half-wild cat hunted by totally wild cats, a monkey with a gangrenous tail, a fussy pig, a goat with a "beard flying like a prophet's," etc.--and the animals seamlessly prefigure what will happen to the children with the subtlety of Ovid, to whom Hughes refers several times, and with the delicious sadism of a Martin Scorsese film.

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