Monday, December 11, 2006

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

I first came across this novel in its Modern Library edition on my great-aunt's bookshelf when my family was cleaning out her house. When I asked my mom about it, she said, oh yes, that's a good one (she later admitted she was thinking of Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier) so I took it home and voila, four years later, I read it. It's rare that I get to read a novel without knowing anything about it in advance so I was surprised to realize this book is about kids, and at first, I thought maybe it was written for kids (the preface jokingly refers to it as a novel about "a crew of well-meaning pirates who fall into the clutches of half a dozen children"), but actually it's that rare novel that writes about children in a way that is really interesting to adults. Not necessarily realistically-not all children are this callous and this dreamy--but interestingly. In particular the character of Emily appears on the outside to be rather ordinary and dull, but her inner life (created I'll point out by a male author) is really wonderfully strange and intense. I think this is maybe where some writers creating child characters in adult fiction go wrong--they let the kids do interesting things but they don't let them think interesting things. If you're going to create kids, don't underestimate their own internal voices, their point of view. Don't make them little grown-ups, but don't make them blank slates either. Emily actually reminded me some of Briony in part one of Ian McEwan's Atonement--a child character who I loved to hate.

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