I first read A High Wind in Jamaica because I come from Jamaica and wanted to hear about home. The mirroring of my own childhood in this eerie, frightening book has haunted me ever since.
It begins with an earthquake and a hurricane, both of which were annual features of my childhood. Emily, the tomboy heroine, profits from being allowed to have her hair cut short and from doing "everything the boys did". In this strange world, sexual difference "had to be left to look after itself". Then the group of children around whom the tale revolves are sent away to school in England, just as I was.
And here our narratives part company. The children are kidnapped by pirates, and there is nothing cosy or safe about the events that ensue. Richard Hughes is clearly influenced by Freud and psychoanalytic literature. A High Wind in Jamaica (now published by Vintage Classics) explores the loss of childhood innocence, the knowledge of sexuality and violent death. The children grow up amoral and half-savage, amid a crew of desperate men. It is a world without redemption.
All the ingredients of an exciting children's adventure story are there, but they are coloured by the sinister shadows of rape, slaughter, sexual abuse and capital punishment. It's for adults only.
Patricia Duncker's 'Seven Tales of Sex and Death' is published by PicadorReuse content